How To Best Support A Loved One Going Through A Mental Health Crisis

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One in five people in the United States will experience a mental illness in any given year, and one in 25 Americans is living with a serious psychiatric disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These statistics mean that even if you don't suffer from mental illness yourself, you likely have a friend or family member who does. At some point, this loved one may go through a mental health crisis and will need social support for their best chance of a full and lasting recovery (via Electron Physician).


When a mental health crisis happens, the person experiencing it often isn't capable of helping themselves. It is very possible that they won't even realize they are in crisis, though they may struggle to eat, sleep, work, or even see reality clearly. This is why it's so important for caring loved ones to stay aware and ready to step in if necessary. Here is a guide to identifying a mental health crisis and how you can provide support to your loved one as a concerned friend, family member, or partner.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.


Start a dialogue

When a person is in the midst of a mental health crisis, they may struggle to trust the people around them. They may hold shame due to the social stigmatization of mental illness or could be experiencing acute symptoms like paranoia. Your best bet is to identify yourself as a safe person long before a crisis occurs. 


If a person in your life struggles with their mental health, check in with them frequently and let them know that you're available to support them if they ever need help. Speak freely about mental health without shame, even with friends and family members who haven't revealed any struggles to you. Keep in mind that up to 75% of Americans and Europeans who struggle with their mental health don't seek diagnoses or treatment, as reported by Healthline.

Know the signs

It can be difficult to recognize the signs of a mental health crisis, especially in a friend or family member who regularly struggles with the symptoms of a mental illness. Often, a crisis is preceded by a stressful or traumatic event or a change in medication. 


According to Crisis Response, some of the most common warning signs that a person's mental health has entered a state of crisis include sudden rapid mood changes, aggression, confusion, extreme fatigue or hyperactivity, inability to eat or stop eating, difficulty completing daily tasks, suicidal ideation, paranoia, hallucinations, and a loss of touch with reality.

How to help

If you've determined that your loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, prepare to proceed with caution. Approach the situation gently and lead with compassion. If they don't seem to pose an immediate safety threat to themselves or others and are cognizant of their surroundings, offer to help with essential tasks like cooking or cleaning.


Nutrition is vital to good mental health, and a healthy diet is difficult to maintain when suffering from common symptoms of mental illness, and dietary deficiencies can make these symptoms worse, according to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Spend a few hours cooking a large batch of a healthful meal that you can prepackage into single servings or order some high-quality supplements. While you perform these duties, offer a sympathetic ear. Simply being cared for and speaking their truth without fear of judgment may inspire them to join in or help them to recover.

Be respectful

No matter how much you want to help your loved one or how badly you believe they're suffering, they deserve autonomy. Unless they are posing an immediate threat to their own safety or the safety of others, you cannot force them to accept help from you or to seek it from a professional. Don't resort to threats or manipulation to get them to cooperate, or you will risk damaging the relationship. 


You may need to set and enforce boundaries for your own mental well-being. This means clearly defining your limits, respectfully communicating them, giving polite reminders, and removing yourself from situations that affect you negatively (via Science of People).

Recognize an emergency

It can be hard to recognize the moment when a mental health crisis becomes an emergency. However, if a loved one who has been struggling with depression or anxiety or has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder begins to exhibit suicidal behavior, it's time to contact your local emergency services. This includes talking about wanting to die or writing out a suicide note.


More than 90% of people who lose their lives to suicide are suffering or have suffered from mental illness, according to The Ohio State Suicide Prevention Program. Those who experience mood disorders are at the highest risk. If you're unsure of whether a behavior warrants an emergency or not, it is always best to err on the side of caution and trust your intuition when something doesn't feel right.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.