Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/11/2021
If you suffer from depression, anxiety or another type of mental health disorder, you might have moments when you find it difficult to control your feelings, thoughts and behavior.
When your emotions become unstable or uncontrollable, you may experience a serious mental health crisis. During these times, it’s important to have a plan ready so you can receive the support and assistance you need to keep yourself and others safe.
Below, we’ve explained what you can do if you find yourself experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as steps you can take to make sure you’re prepared.
A mental health crisis — or mental health emergency — is any mental health situation that puts you or other people in danger.
It’s important to seek help as soon as you can if you feel you’re losing control of your thinking or behavior.
A mental health emergency is a temporary event, and with the right interventions, it’s possible to move on and make real progress in your life.
When it comes to your mental health and wellbeing, it’s generally best to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
This means that if you have a mental health condition, you should prepare a plan ahead of time to make sure you’re safe during any weak moments or emergencies.
Use the strategies below to make sure you’re prepared and able to take action if you go through a mental health emergency.
When you’re experiencing serious mental health issues, it’s important to have emergency care you can turn to for help and support.
To make sure you have emergency information readily available when required, make a list of organizations, people and services you can contact during an emergency situation.
Good emergency care sources include:
Your mental health provider. Ask your mental health provider for their phone number or other contact information, so you can contact them if you ever need urgent help or care. Make sure to keep their contact information in an easy-to-reach place. It’s also worth noting your county or state’s mental health crisis unit contact information. You may need to contact this service if your mental health provider isn’t able to respond.
Emergency services. In addition to 911, make sure to write down phone numbers for your primary hospital emergency department, poison control center and other local emergency services. If you need to contact emergency services, make sure to inform them that you’re going through a mental health crisis. If possible, ask for someone trained in mental illnesses, such as an officer with Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Lifeline provides free, 24/7 support for people in distress within the United States. If you ever feel suicidal, you can call 1-800-273-8255 to connect to a local crisis center for free, confidential support and assistance.
Other crisis and mental health hotlines. Many other organizations offer free support by phone or text message, including for specific conditions. You may want to add some of the services on our list of mental health hotlines to your emergency care list.
You can either write these numbers down and keep them in an easy-to-reach location or save them as contacts in your phone.
Make sure to provide a copy of these phone numbers to your loved ones so they can help you in the event of an emergency.
Sometimes you may experience mental health concerns that are significant, yet not so severe you need to call emergency services.
In these situations, it helps to have a friend or family member you can contact to discuss your worries and get help.
Try reaching out to a close friend, family member or someone else you trust to see if they’d be willing to take your calls when you’re going through a difficult time.
Not only can a friend or family member help you when you’re experiencing emotional distress, but they can also take action and contact emergency services if you’re going through a major emergency and can’t seek professional help on your own.
Many mental health conditions can cause you to experience severe symptoms, including major depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders such as panic disorder.
When these symptoms become overwhelming, staying in control of your thoughts, feelings and behavior can become difficult. In some cases, you may require urgent support and treatment.
During a mental health crisis, making the right decisions can help you to gain control over your mind and prevent the situation from becoming worse.
Follow the steps below to take action in a crisis situation and protect yourself and others.
When you’re going through a period of severe, overwhelming symptoms, trying to think clearly can be difficult.
However, it’s important to try to objectively assess your situation and work out what you can do to improve things.
Ask yourself, what symptoms are you experiencing? Do you feel in control of your feelings and thoughts? Over the last few minutes, do you feel yourself getting worse or better? What caused you to feel this way? Is there anything around you that could be making your symptoms worse?
Think as objectively as possible. Are you at risk of hurting yourself, and is there any chance you might hurt someone else?
If you’ve been through a similar mental health crisis before, ask yourself what happened during that situation and how you were able to cope.
If you feel like you can’t quite handle things by yourself, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
Use the list of emergency contacts you prepared earlier to get in touch with your close friends, family or mental health professional.
Sometimes just having a friend or loved one to be around you can make a big difference.
Don’t be afraid to ask a close friend or family member to spend time with you until you feel stable and more able to control your feelings and thoughts.
If you’re experiencing suicidal ideation, contact emergency services or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) as soon as you can.
You can also go directly to your local emergency room and inform them that you’re going through a mental health crisis.
Common warning signs of suicide include forming a plan to kill yourself, taking dangerous risks, changing your sleeping or eating habits, withdrawing from social relationships, saying goodbye to loved ones and abusing drugs and/or alcohol.
Don’t feel hesitant to reach out for help. In an emergency, getting help can save you from harm and give you a valuable support network.
If you think you can handle things by yourself, try using self-care techniques to gain control over your feelings and thoughts.
If you currently take part in therapy, you may have learned techniques for controlling stressful or difficult situations.
You may have mental strategies you can use to ease feelings of doubt or hopelessness, or other emotions that you feel during a crisis.
Sometimes, simple things such as meditating, exercising, walking around your local area or just sitting down to relax for a few minutes can help stabilize your mood and cope with the issues that are affecting you.
A mental health crisis is rarely a one-off event. Instead, it’s almost always a sign you need ongoing, long-term help with your mental health.
If you aren’t already doing so, take the time to contact a mental health provider in your area, or ask your primary care provider for a mental health referral.
You can also consult with a licensed psychiatry provider from home using our online psychiatry service.
Over the long term, active, ongoing treatment can help you gain control over your symptoms and reduce your risk of experiencing subsequent mental health emergencies.
Mental health issues are extremely common, and people of all ages and backgrounds are often affected.
If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, it’s always best to get professional help.
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