Dealing with a crisis

Basic guidelines

Here are some basic guidelines to help you handle a mental health crisis. In the next section you will find more comprehensive guidelines on averting, preparing for and dealing with a crisis.

Your goals in a mental health crisis are to

  • Stabilise the situation
  • Get the person to professional help as quickly as possible

A mental health emergency is a life-threatening situation in which a person

  • Is in danger of causing immediate harm to themselves or others
  • Is severely disoriented or out of touch with reality, or
  • Is otherwise out of control

Hospital admission will be needed if

  • Not going to hospital means the person or others would be at risk of harm
  • The person needs intensive support which cannot be given at home
  • The person needs to have an assessment which cannot be done outside of hospital

It is important for you to

  • Understand that the person may be confused, distressed and frightened
  • Empathise and connect with their feelings
  • Try to get the person to a state of calm where they will accept help

Tips for calming the situation

  • Speak in a calm and reassuring manner. Avoid overreacting
  • Listen carefully and express support and concern. Remember the person in front of you is ill
  • Avoid making prolonged eye contact. This can cause further agitation
  • Keep stimulus low
  • Move slowly and avoid sudden moves. Don’t touch the individual unless you ask for and are given permission
  • Be patient
  • Offer support and options, not demands and orders
  • Don’t try to argue or reason with the individual. They are not in a state of mind that supports rational thought
  • If the situation escalates or you feel you are in danger at any time, leave the location immediately

Call for help

  • Use your list of emergency contacts
  • Call for appropriate help

More on navigating a crisis

A person with schizophrenia is very likely to experience a crisis from time to time. It is very important to be prepared, as a family, before this happens, so that everyone knows what to do. Making a crisis plan together with your relative while they are well is an excellent way of getting ready. One of many useful resources is NAMI’s guide to navigating a mental health crisis.

Navigating a mental health crisis
National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2018, 30 pages

NAMI is the largest grassroots mental health organisation in the USA and a reputable source of user-friendly information. This guide aims to support people experiencing a mental health emergency, as well as their families and friends. It outlines what can contribute to a mental health crisis, describes the warning signs that a crisis is emerging, advises what to do when the crisis involves the risk of suicide, provides strategies to help de-escalate a crisis, and concludes with a valuable section on preventing a crisis, together with sample forms and a sample crisis plan.