Helping Someone with a Mental Health Issue

Mental health is a taboo subject for many people, but this just makes it harder for people to get help when they need it. A mental health crisis can strike just about anybody, and there are plenty of reasons it might happen. Knowing how to help someone in crisis is one of the most important factors in identifying a potentially serious emergency and ensuring a loved one gets the assistance they need.

When a loved one appears to be spiraling into a mental health crisis, it can be difficult to know what to do to help. Fortunately, you have several places to turn in order to ask for the help that you need. A good first place to start is by calling The National Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787. The specialist you speak with will point you in the right direction toward what you should do next.

Is Your Loved One Experiencing a Crisis?

Your loved one may be having a difficult time right now because he or she is experiencing a mental health crisis, which is common when someone has been diagnosed with a mental disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration states that 10% of patients will be readmitted to a psychiatric hospital within one month of being released, and another 20% will be readmitted within six months.

When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, it is difficult for him or her to cope during times of stress, shame, grief, or guilt. If a person also has a drug or alcohol problem, he or she may begin to use the drug of choice again.

Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

There are many reasons somebody might develop a mental health crisis, and the signs that a person you care for is in distress might be easy to miss. As a rule, any major change in behavior in an adult can be a sign of trouble, but only a doctor can properly diagnose a mental illness.

If you notice somebody close to you showing the common signs of a mental health crisis, you might be the first person to spot the issue and get them the help they need. Watch for these signs in particular because they’re some of the most common early signals of a crisis or growing mental health disorder:

  • Altered state of consciousness or loss of ability to perform routine daily tasks, such as bathing, dressing, cleaning, cooking or other common activities of daily living
  • Rapid, severe or unpredictable mood swings
  • Inappropriate emotional reactions, such as laughing at sad news or becoming upset during normal conversations
  • Increased agitation, elevated risk-taking or other out-of-control behavior that could create a risk of harm
  • Abusive or hostile behavior directed toward family or friends, or a dramatic and seemingly uncaused change in how they relate to others
  • Self-harm, or the threat of self-harm
  • Increasing isolation from family and friends, coworkers or schoolmates
  • Paranoid or delusional thinking, odd behaviors or other disturbed actions
  • Seeming loss of contact with reality, memory loss or other rapid cognitive decline
  • Changes in sleep habits, either insomnia or daytime sleepiness, that don’t have an obvious cause

Common Reasons for Mental Health Crises

There are a lot of reasons somebody might develop a mental health crisis. In fact, more than half (51%) of all American adults have had a mental health crisis happen either to them or to a close family member. It could be a new condition that’s surfacing for the first time or an established mental health issue could be recurring. The person could have an injury or illness or be reacting to medication, drugs or another environmental issue. Finally, the person you’re trying to help might be stressed out and feeling overwhelmed. No matter what the underlying issue is, your compassionate presence and efforts to help are possibly the best chance your loved one has of getting help and starting their recovery.

What Are Mental Health Triggers?

Not all mental health crises begin with a trigger, but in many cases, a deep decline in mental health can be triggered by a particularly troubling event. Such events can include:

  • Difficulties parenting children
  • Refusing to take medications for mental disorders
  • Drug or alcohol problems
  • An upsetting event or troubling news
  • Loss of the support of family members
  • Diagnosis of an illness
  • Financial difficulties
  • Stress at work or at home
  • Losing touch with reality
  • Hearing voices or paranoia to the extent that it interferes with their daily activities, or puts themselves or others in danger

How to Help Someone in Crisis

Many of the symptoms of a mental health crisis can also be signs of something else, even serious physical injuries. If you ever suspect a head injury or serious illness, the first place to look for help is usually medical professionals such as a doctor or nurse practitioner. If the person you care for resists medical attention or evaluation, you have to use your best judgment about calling for help.

It’s not always easy to know how to help someone in a mental health crisis, but calling for professional advice is one of the best moves you can make. If you aren’t trained in mental health crisis interventions yourself, it’s usually best to call a professional at 911 (for emergencies), 988 (National Suicide Prevention Hotline) or a local mental health helpline to get advice and referrals to care. In some areas, the police might be able to intervene on a person’s behalf to prevent self-harm or harm to others.

If the person in crisis is able and willing to talk, or if there doesn’t seem to be an immediate threat to their safety, you can encourage them to seek a mental health evaluation. Many mental health care providers offer evaluations for free, and most health insurance plans cover at least some intake and evaluation services. Remember that a mental health crisis can happen to nearly anybody, for almost any reason, and that a calm, supportive voice is nearly always the best approach to a loved one in distress.

Get a Mental Health Assessment

If your loved one has never been diagnosed with a mental disorder before, or they seem to be getting worse, you may need to be the one to take them for a mental health assessment. You can make an appointment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health clinic, or family doctor to find out if your loved one has a mental illness for which they can receive treatment.

It is true that everyone can feel down at times, but the crisis that your loved one is going through may be more than just the regular ups and downs of life. The depression or the anxiety that he or she is experiencing may be getting in the way of living a normal, happy life; if this is the case, you must help the individual take control of it. According to the research, with early intervention, a person will do much better.

What Does a Mental Health Assessment Entail?

Your loved one should have a physical examination first, because some illnesses can cause symptoms similar to those of certain mental illnesses. During the examination, the doctor will take blood work for the purpose of diagnosing any physical illness. He may get a urine drug screen to see if you are using any unprescribed drugs, and possibly a breathalyzer or blood alcohol test. Your loved one will need to be honest about any drug or alcohol use.

While it is common to see if there is any physical cause of the person’s problems, there are no diagnostic tests like blood work or X-rays to diagnose mental problems. Diagnosis is only made on the basis of the patient’s behavior and answers to questions in the assessment.

The person doing the assessment will ask questions about how the patient functions now, the history of the mental disorder, as well as what medications the person takes, or used to take. For example, how long has he or she been experiencing symptoms, and does the person have a family or personal history of mental illness? Lastly, the health care professional will want to know about your loved one’s personal history and whether or not he or she is under any stress.

During the mental evaluation, the assessor will ask your loved one about his or her feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Also, they will ask how your loved one manages symptoms and what makes him or her feel better or worse. Finally, the doctor or counselor will observe your loved one’s outward appearance.

During the cognitive evaluation, the doctor will determine whether your loved one is thinking clearly, can remember information, and can use mental reasoning. Your loved one may need to demonstrate an ability to perform math problems or to recognize shapes. Lastly, the individual may be asked to describe the day and explain whether he or she having difficulties caring for himself or herself.

If you believe that your loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, it is your duty to address this issue with him or her. Let your loved one know that you are concerned and that you will help in any way you can. If the person is not receptive to your overtures, know that you cannot force them to do anything. If you believe that your loved one may harm himself or herself, you should call 911 or the suicide prevention hotline.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free service that is available to help prevent suicide 24 hours a day. Trained hotline operators will offer you resources designed to help your loved one. They can also point you in the direction of the most appropriate professionals for your needs. You can be assured that the counselors will maintain confidentiality, so contact them if you are concerned about your loved one. If you believe that substance abuse is playing a role in your loved one’s crisis, you can also call The National Mental Health Hotline for help exploring local resources for recovery.

What Is a Crisis Intervention?

A crisis intervention is a tactic that you can use to address your loved one if he or she is experiencing emotional, behavioral, physical or mental distress. The intervention has the very important role of restoring your loved one’s equilibrium and preventing continuous mental distress.

Trained crisis counselors conduct these interventions, which can occur anywhere it would be most comfortable for you and the target of the intervention. The intervention will not be a time when your loved one will receive counseling for his or her mental disorder or substance disorder. An intervention will give your loved one the immediate assistance he or she needs and knowledge of the resources that can help the individual move through this crisis. In the process, he or she may feel more stable and will know that he or she has your support.

Who Are Crisis Intervention Professionals?

An intervention might require the help of several professionals. These may include doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers, psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists. The intervention that you stage for a loved one experiencing a mental health crisis will require the assistance of a certified crisis intervention counselor. A certified crisis intervention counselor will be instrumental in helping your loved one feel stable again after experiencing strong emotions that a difficult event may have caused.

You must be prepared for your intervention to last several hours, and you may need to meet with the counselor more than one time. These sessions have been known to last for several weeks when the patient’s condition was particularly troubled.

What If a Mental Health Crisis and a Substance Problem Occur Together?

If your loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis at the same time that he or she is also struggling with drugs and alcohol, crisis intervention would be warranted. Your loved one may have returned to drug use as a way of treating a mental health disorder. Even if he or she does not have addiction issues, your loved one may turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with the emotional and physical distress he or she may be experiencing.

The time to stage an intervention is before substance use spirals out of control. Your loved one may not be dependent on drugs or alcohol yet, so it is imperative that you act quickly. An intervention will teach your loved one how he or she can cope effectively with a mental disorder so that the occasional or social alcohol or drug use doesn’t turn into a substance use disorder.

If your loved one is using drugs or drinking to the point at which it is causing very serious harm, this is the time for an intervention. The fact that a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder are troubling your loved one at the same time makes this a particularly dangerous situation.

What Is a Crisis Assessment?

Before you can perform an intervention, you need to perform an assessment of the situation. A mental health counselor will interview the patient and ask questions about his or her past history of mental health crises. Your loved one will need to tell the counselor how long he or she has been experiencing these crises and how he or she is affected emotionally.

The counselor will do several assessments to ensure that the intervention runs smoothly. The first thing the counselor will want to do is determine what condition the patient is in so that professionals can develop the appropriate treatment plan.

The second thing that your counselor will do is perform a crisis assessment. The counselor will ask about your loved one’s experiences during his or her crises. The counselor will make a cultural assessment and a social assessment to determine how much stress your loved one is under, the problems he or she is experiencing, and how severe the crisis seems to be.

The Seven-Stage Crisis Intervention Model

One example of a crisis intervention is the seven-stage crisis intervention model. This model was created to be a guide that people can follow toward resolving crisis situations. It is also known as the Assessment, Crisis, Intervention, Trauma, Treatment Model. The seven stages are:

  1. Perform a biopsychological/imminent danger assessment.  The biopsychosocial assessment is a review of the person’s life, stressors, and support system.
  2. Quickly develop a trusting relationship with the participants.
  3. Explain what occurred that brought everyone to the point of needing an intervention.
  4. Help everyone to examine his or her emotions and feelings.
  5. Explore new ways of coping with stresses and anxieties.
  6. Bring everyone back to a functional place by creating a plan of action.
  7. Schedule your next sessions.

What If Your Loved One Refuses to Get Help?

Interventions don’t always work. Sometimes, people are extremely stubborn, and they refuse to admit that there is a problem. Their conditions may cause them to lash out when people are only trying to help. In such cases, you must determine whether or not your loved one is a danger to his or her own safety or to others. If so, you should call emergency services.

What Is Involuntary Civil Commitment?

In the event that you cannot leave your loved one alone, you may be forced to consider involuntary civil commitment. Involuntary civil commitment is another form of intervention, but this one involves a judge. The judge may order your loved one to be confined to a facility if he or she is exhibiting symptoms of a serious mental disorder. The judge can also order your loved one to enter into an outpatient treatment program for a period of time.

Call Emergency Services

If your loved one is experiencing a mental health emergency that threatens anyone’s safety, you cannot wait. You must call 911. If you are afraid of your loved one or if your loved one hurt somebody, you need to call the authorities. If you notice that your loved one is unable to care for himself or herself as in the past, it is time to call. Your loved one may become destructive and damage property, or you may believe that your loved one will hurt someone if left alone. These are the times when it is imperative that you contact emergency services for your loved one.

Even if your loved one’s mental health has not reached a critical breaking point, you may feel alone and struggle to find help. Rest assured that you can reach out to The National Mental Health Hotline at 866-903-3787 for assistance.