What is A Mental Health Crisis? How To Create A Plan

what is a mental health crisis

With a strong stigma associated with mental health, many people may not know how to answer the question of “what is a mental health crisis”?

Suicidal thoughts are not the only way a person may experience a mental health crisis, and people with or without diagnosed mental illnesses can suffer from a mental health crisis or emergency.

One of the best ways to prevent a mental health crisis from escalating is to have a plan in place ahead of time. Continue reading to learn more about what a mental health crisis is, and for a free download of a mental health crisis plan template.


For additional resources, take a look at our mental health crisis resources page.


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What is a mental health crisis?

A mental health crisis is a situation in which a person is exhibiting extreme emotional disturbance or behavioral distress, considering to harm themself or others, disoriented or out of touch with reality, or has a compromised ability.


  • Speaking about suicide threats
  • Talking about threatening behavior
  • Self- harm
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Highly erratic or unusual behavior
  • Eating disorders
  • Not taking prescribed psychiatric medications
  • Emotionally distraught, very depressed, angry or anxious
  • Someone who indicated wanting to kill themselves


A mental health crisis turns into a mental health emergency when the situation becomes life-threatening. Immediately call 911.


Early Warning Signs

  • Rapid mood swings
  • Extreme energy or lack of it, sleeping all the time, or being unable to sleep
  • Severe agitation, pacing,
  • Talking very rapidly or non-stop
  • Confused thinking or irrational thoughts
  • Thinking everyone is out to get them or seeming to lose touch with reality
  • If they are experiencing hallucinations or delusions
  • Making threats to others or themselves
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family, not coming out of their room
  • Not eating or eating all the time, rapid weight loss or gain
  • Suicidal thoughts and statements such as “I want to die” or even possible vague statements such as “I don’t want to be here anymore”

Mental Health Crisis Plan

Why Make A Mental Health Crisis Plan?

People have disaster preparedness kits and fire exit routes planned, but most never think to develop a mental health crisis plan. With suicide as the second leading cause of death among individuals ages 10-34, and 10th leading cause of death overall, a crisis plan is essential.

As mentioned before, a mental health crisis plan can be used for more than suicide prevention. Those who are already diagnosed with a mental illness should make it a priority to create a plan and print multiple copies.


A mental health crisis plan is important because in the middle of a crisis you may not be well enough to get help on your own.


Not only is a mental health crisis plan used as a personal resource, but it also is a preventative measure for you and others in your household to recognize warning signs and triggers. If an emergency does occur, this will be something that will make it easier for emergency personnel to find the information they are looking for.*

*In these types of situations, many people may be asking questions. It’s not uncommon to regress and stay silent. 

What to include in A Mental Health Crisis Plan

Contact Information

Phone numbers and address are the standard contact information needed for the following:

  1. Your personal address and phone number(s)
  2. Phone numbers for your loved ones or emergency contact
  3. Therapist and Psychiatrist contact information
  4. Any other healthcare provider


Triggers / Warning Signs

The most important information you can have in your plan is a list of triggers and warnings signs. By being aware of what may trigger a crisis, you can take action before things become worse.

  • Lack of sleep or oversleeping
  • Change in appetite
  • Craving/using drugs or alcohol
  • Risky behavior (speeding, unprotected sex, etc.)
  • Missing work or other responsibilities

Things that have helped in the past

This is the portion of your plan where you include strategies for calming yourself.

  • Taking a nap or shower
  • Going for a run
  • Talking to a friend of loved one
  • Writing out how you are feeling (journaling)
  • Listening to music
  • Calling the crisis hotline


Family Members and Friends

This is different than the contact information listed above because this is intended for you to use as a call list in case of a crisis. Make a list of people you can call or talk to who can be there for support. This can be family, friends, co-workers, anybody that you feel that you can trust in sharing your personal feelings with.  


Crisis Hotline Numbers

In case no one is able to answer, or the situation is not de-escalating, a crisis hotline number is vital for a mental health crisis plan.

  • Local crisis hotline number (you can usually find this by contacting your NAMI Affiliate, or by doing an internet search for “mental health crisis services” and the name of your county)
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK


Local Crisis Centers

It is also a good idea to include the addresses of walk-in crisis centers or emergency rooms in your local area. You can search for this on the internet or ask your Doctor for a list of the local centers. SAMHSA also has a locator on their website. You should also search for the Mobile Crisis Unit phone number in the area (if there is one), and determine if police officers in the community have Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).  


It’s important to include any medication you are currently taking as this may be crucial information in case of an emergency.

  • Medication name
  • Dosage
  • Known side effects (can be found with Rx information)


Mental Health History

In case of emergency, a brief mental health history is significant information to include in your plan. Items that may be relevant:

  • Official diagnosis
  • Medications
  • History of drug use
  • Any hospitalizations (i.e. previous suicide attempts)
  • Any surgeries
  • Allergies
  • Anything that is physical health related (diabetes, asthma, paralysis, etc.)


A mental health crisis will look different for everyone, but typically is known as a situation in which a person is exhibiting extreme emotional disturbance or behavioral distress.

Whether you have been officially diagnosed with a mental illness or not, having a personal mental health plan is crucial in a time of need. Even stress can trigger a crisis, and stress is something that everyone experiences from time to time.

Do yourself a favor and take the time to develop a plan. 

You can receive a free printable PDF template here.

Once you have developed a plan, it is important to go over the plan with your loved ones and anyone in your household as they may also be wondering “what is a mental health crisis?”

It is also a smart idea to bring this up with your doctor. They may be able to provide additional information to include in your final plan.

Remember to keep copies in several places. Store a copy in a drawer in your kitchen, your car’s glove compartment, on your smartphone, in your bedroom, and in a room in your home that has a lock and a phone.

Just like many other times of distress, a mental health crisis can be prevented if you take appropriate steps to prepare.

Related posts:

5 Ways To Fight The Stigma of Mental Illness

How To Maintain Work-Life Balance For Your Mental Health

8 Healthy Ways I Cope With Anxiety

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Comments (2)

Thanks so much for info.

You’re so welcome!

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