Managing A Mental Health Crisis: A Family Guide

Mental illness is often unpredictable. Symptoms can intensify without warning, leading to mental health crises that quickly spiral out of control, creating unsafe – and potentially life-threatening – situations.

In a time of crisis, it can be hard to know exactly how to react, what to say, or where to turn for help. If someone you love is struggling through a mental health crisis, the following guide can provide with you with tips to manage the situation, keep everyone safe, and get your loved one the treatment they need to stabilize.

What is a mental health crisis?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health crisis is defined as “any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively.”

The erratic nature of mental illness makes it difficult to anticipate an oncoming crisis, but some common indicators of distress include:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation

  • Rapid mood swings

  • Excessive fear, suspicion, or paranoia

  • Losing touch with reality

  • Thinking or talking about suicide

What to do when you suspect your loved one is suicidal

Talk of suicide should always be treated seriously, but sometimes those at risk of suicide don’t always give a clear warning – especially when in the midst of a mental health crisis. If you’re concerned that your loved one may be suicidal, here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Giving away personal possessions

  • Saying goodbye or talking as if they’re going away

  • Sudden calm and happiness after a period of emotional turmoil

  • Increased drug or alcohol use

  • History of suicide attempts

In cases like this, it’s imperative to contact a suicide prevention line or mental health professional as soon as possible. If the risk is immediate, call 911.

Tips to de-escalate a mental health crisis

During a mental health crisis, it can be hard to understand exactly what’s going on. A person may have difficulty clearly expressing themselves or communicating their concerns. While this can be scary, it’s important to stay calm and try your best to connect with them.

Some tips to help de-escalate the situation include:

  • Speak softly and calmly

  • Move slowly

  • Listen without overreacting or trying to take control

  • Provide messages of support and concern

  • Avoid eye contact

  • Ask how you can help

Sometimes, these techniques can help you convince your loved one to seek treatment on their own. But if the situation continues to intensify, you may need to enlist the immediate help of a medical professional.

How to get help during a mental health crisis

Whenever someone’s life is in danger, or a situation becomes uncontrollably violent, it’s imperative to call 911. You may also wish to ask the operator to send a Crisis Intervention Training officer, a person who has been specially trained to work with people who suffer from mental illness.

If there isn’t an immediate threat to someone’s life, you can call a 24-hour crisis hotline. These phones are manned by trained, experienced employees who will provide you with preliminary screenings, assessment, and triage before referring you to treatment programs and services.

Mental health treatment is the key to symptom management and crisis prevention

To prevent a mental health crisis from recurring, it’s crucial to receive proper treatment. While involuntary commitment may be the only way to keep your loved one safe until they are stable, it’s always preferable for them to admit themselves to a treatment program voluntarily. Convincing anyone that they need to seek treatment for their mental illness can be a daunting task, but gentle encouragement and meaningful support can have a huge impact on their successful recovery.

Mental health begins at Alvarado Parkway Institute

If your loved one is in crisis, Alvarado Parkway Institute can help. Our inpatient programs in San Diego provide highly structured mental heath care for patients who are struggling to manage their symptoms and their daily life. At Alvarado Parkway, we help patients stabilize and rebuild the coping skills they need to live a healthy, balanced life.

For more information about our treatment programs, or for help during a crisis, call our 24-hour crisis line at (619) 667-6125.