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KVC Health Systems

What Does a Mental Health Crisis Look Like?

mental health crisis

Unfortunately, none of us have to look very far to find someone who has been affected by suicide or mental health crisis. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. for adults and the third leading cause of death for teens. The National Alliance on Mental Illness says 1 in 5 youth aged 13-18 experiences a severe mental health condition at some point in their life. That’s 21.4% of youth. The risk of suicide for people with mental health needs is a concern.

Learn about the 5 things every child needs for good mental health here!

One of the most common comments we hear at our children’s psychiatric hospitals is that the families and friends of people who are admitted didn’t realize their loved one was going through a crisis. A mental health crisis isn’t something people typically prepare for and they can miss the signs. Here are some ways to recognize when a person is experiencing a mental health crisis and help your loved one get help.

What is a Mental Health Crisis?

A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s actions, feelings, and behaviors can lead to them hurting themselves or others, and/or put them at risk of being unable to care for themselves or function in the community in a healthy manner. Situations that can lead to a mental health crisis can include stress at home like conflicts with loved ones, exposure to trauma, or violence. Stress at work or school and other environmental stress can also contribute to a mental health crisis.

James Roberson of KVC Hospitals


Individuals with diagnosed mental illness are at greater risk of experiencing crisis, but too often a crisis occurs before a mental illness has been diagnosed. “We have to remember that mental illness is a physical condition,” said James Roberson, VP of Programs and Innovation at KVC Hospitals. “When crisis strikes it’s not a switch that can be turned off. The body and brain may be working against our own goals and desires. Seeking professional help is the safest way to address the underlying medical issues. Once addressed other therapies and treatment services can be used to prevent future crisis and address underlying issues.”

Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis can display in a variety of ways. There is no one indicator that a person is experiencing a mental health emergency or may attempt suicide, but here some signs to look for. The person may be:

  • Unable to complete daily tasks like getting dressed, brushing teeth, bathing, etc.
  • Verbally saying, writing or insinuating that they’d like to kill themselves and/or talking about death
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and their typical social situations
  • Showing impulsive or reckless behavior, being aggressive
  • Having dramatic shifts in mood, sleeping or eating patterns

Being Prepared for a Mental Health Crisis

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, being prepared in advance for a mental health crisis and sharing that plan with your loved one can help to avoid a crisis. When you suspect a crisis, you’ll need to decide who call to help. If the person is an immediate danger to themselves or someone else, do not hesitate to call 911 and let them know you are with someone experiencing a mental health crisis. If the person is not in immediate danger you can reach out the individual’s therapist, doctor or psychiatrist if they have one. They will be able to provide advice and help with crisis services. You can also go to the local mental health center or emergency room to receive an assessment.

There are also techniques that can help de-escalate a crisis which includes keeping your voice calm, listening to the person, moving slowly and avoiding making judgemental comments. Here are the things you can discuss and information you can gather to create a preparedness plan:

  • Know where to go for help. This can be a community mental health center, emergency room or psychiatric treatment facility. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Identify family members and friends who can be available for help and to support the person in crisis.
  • Compile the phone numbers and names of the person’s primary care doctor, psychiatrist, therapist and other healthcare providers.
  • Compile a list of the medications and diagnoses your loved one has.
  • Compile a list of the emotional and verbal triggers that typically affect your loved one.
  • Share any history of drug and/or alcohol use you’re aware of, plus any history of psychosis or suicide attempts.
  • Consider things that have helped to stabilize and regulate the person in the past.
  • Remove weapons, unprescribed medications, and items that can cause risk to their life.

Don’t try to handle the situation alone. If you know someone struggling with depression or experiencing thoughts of self-harm, contact our psychiatric hospitals at (913) 890-7468, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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