What is a mental health crisis, and what do you do if someone is experiencing one?

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What is a mental health crisis?

A mental health crisis is a situation in which someone is at risk of hurting themselves or others.

Mental illnesses are medical conditions that can disrupt a person’s thinking, mood, feelings or daily functioning. Mental health crises and symptoms can vary from person to person, and there are many events that can lead to a mental health crisis, including, trauma, a death of a loved one or losing a job.

What are the symptoms?

A mental breakdown is different for everyone and symptoms can vary depending on the mental illness the person is diagnosed with. The most common diagnoses are schizophrenia, depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.

Symptoms may include withdrawing from friends, lack of hygiene, drug and alcohol abuse, or quick weight loss or gain.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255, a mental health professional or 911. In this situation, it’s important to not leave your loved one alone.

How can you help someone going through a crisis?

If you think you or a loved one might be at risk for a mental breakdown, your best option may be to call 911. You can request police send Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) officers, who are trained to respond to mental health crises.

It’s important to note someone suffering a crisis may not be able to communicate clearly and could have difficulty understanding other people. Staying calm, listening and being nonjudgmental can be vital. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) recommends offering your loved one options instead of trying to take full control, speaking softly and not touching him or her unless you have permission.

If first responders arrive, they may take him or her to an emergency room. You and your loved one could have a lengthy wait in the ER. If possible, you should bring any relevant medical information, including the names and doses of any medication.

What to expect from treatment 

There are several types of treatment, and they often vary depending on you or your loved ones condition and payer source. Doctors may choose to keep him or her at least overnight.

Doctors may recommend inpatient treatment, which means a person is admitted to a treatment facility, for those who are considered a danger to themselves or others. They also could recommend outpatient treatment, which is provided while you or your loved one lives at home. Treatment also could include a combination of inpatient and outpatient care.

If you or your loved one is prescribed medication, it could take weeks or months to be effective.

It’s important to have a mental health plan, and follow up with outpatient appointments and take medication as prescribed. This could help prevent your or your loved one from cycling in and out of crises.

The National Alliance on Mental Health has a full guide for navigating mental health crises.

Other mental health resources: 

COPES (Mobile Psychiatric Crisis Services): The free, confidential 24/7 service is available to anyone in Tulsa County and responds to mental health crises experienced by adults and children. 918-744-4800

Mental Health Association’s free Oklahoma Community Referral Line can help connect you to mental health services: 918-585-1213 and 405-943-3700

Related reading:

‘People seem sicker now’: The number of Oklahomans seeking psychiatric crisis care has surged

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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