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October 23, 2014
by Marti Wormuth, MA

Recognizing a Mental Health Emergency

October 23, 2014 04:55 by Marti Wormuth, MA  [About the Author]

If you have friends and family with mental health issues, or you have issues yourself, then you may be thinking about what you do if an emergency happens. Like with any health issue, it's important to keep this in mind in case something (a nervous breakdown or some other type of emergency) does happen to you or your loved one. In this article, we're going to take a closer look at what entails a mental health emergency and what you should do in order to make sure that you or your loved one is safe and taken care of in case of that mental health emergency. Preparation is key, so knowing these things ahead of time will help you to love and support your loved one (or get the support you need) in your time of need. 

What Does a Mental Health Emergency Look Like?

There are a lot of things out there that can signify a mental health emergency, and it honestly just depends on exactly what mental illness you are dealing with and how the person you are helping reacts to what you're doing. Here are some of the most common symptoms of mental health emergencies, so keep an eye out for these if you are concerned that they may happen to you our your loved one at some point in time. 

Change in Behavior. If your normally mild-mannered loved one starts to overreact to a situation that they wouldn't even blink at normally, or if you are typically soft spoken and you start to yell for an unknown reason, you may be having a mental health emergency. Obviously, things happen and we do and say things that are out of the ordinary, but if you or your loved one's behavior changes drastically and without any indication or aggravation, there may be some things to be concerned about in that situation. 

Threatening to Harm Self or Others. This is, perhaps, the number one indicator that there is a mental health emergency going on with someone. If they are talking about suicide or they are threatening to harm other people in the process, then you need to contact someone immediately. This is incredibly important to keep an eye on, and always take these sorts of things seriously. You would rather get them the help that they need and find out you were overreacting than for something to happen to or because of your loved one as a result of ignoring it. 

Issues with Communication. If you or your loved one is having a hard time speaking, if language is garbled or sentences aren't making sense, a mental health emergency may be occurring. During times of panic and distress, the mind is unable to clearly communicate with the rest of the body and, thus, makes it difficult to communicate with other people. If you or your loved one is speaking in short, incomprehensible sentences or you or they just cannot put words together at all, there may be a mental health emergency and something should be done. 

Lack of Focus or Concentration. People who are going through a mental health emergency may get distracted incredibly easily. Their minds wander a lot and they are unable to keep focused on one thing. They may not be able to keep track of what time it is, they may have a difficult time walking, typing, or doing other physical tasks, and they may not be able to pay attention to you when you're trying to talk to them. Even if someone is a little absent minded normally, it could end up becoming a lot more severe and noticeable when they are in a mental health emergency situation. 

Physical Signs. Sometimes, a mental health emergency comes with some very obvious physical signs. Some people will sweat, others will tremble or shake, and even others will start to cry. In extreme cases, some people will lose their ability to comprehend what others are saying in the middle of a mental health emergency, which makes the situation that much worse. They may not be able to hold objects, stand up, and in the worst cases, they may feel like they cannot breathe or "as if they are having a heart attack." The heart will race and their chest may feel tight. 

What Do You Do in a Mental Health Emergency? 

No matter what the emergency may be, there are a number of things that you can do in order to help yourself or your loved one in the case of a mental health emergency. These can be incredibly frightening, so knowing what you can do for them ahead of time can play a significant role in keeping yourself and them safe and calm during the entire thing, and it can help everyone to get the help that they need in order to get through the situation with as little scrapes as possible. Here are some of the things that you can do in a mental health emergency: 

Remain calm. It may sound obvious, but you have to remain calm in the case of a mental health emergency. Obviously, if you're having the emergency it's easier said than done, but if you're helping your loved one through an emergency, you have to stay calm. If you start to panic as a result of their emergency, it's just going to make the entire situation worse. It may be hard for you to stay calm, but do everything you can to act okay during these vital moments; you can process and react to them after the mental health emergency has been taken care of appropriately. Practice breathing exercises and think positive thoughts to help you out. 

Call emergency services. If the mental health emergency is going to cause harm to the person in question or to others, there are plenty of places that you can and should call in this case. There are crisis lines that you can call that will help you out, or you can call 911 and get the services that you need in order to keep your loved one safe. In some cases, you may not have to call emergency services, so use your best judgment when it comes to these situations - you'd rather overreact than not do anything and have something happen in the most vital time that you or your loved one has. Make sure that you have numbers available ahead of time and know which ones to call in certain situations, especially if your loved one has already been diagnosed with a condition. 

Know medications, if necessary. Sometimes, the person who is having a mental health emergency is medicated in some way because they have a history of the mental illness and they are already being treated by a psychiatrist or a doctor. Some people suffering from mental illness struggle with a number of things, and they will have medication that they take "as needed." If you or a loved one has a diagnosed mental health problem, make sure that people know about the "as needed" medication so that it can be administered during the emergency, if that's what it pertains to. Sometimes, that is all that is needed in order to make sure that you or your loved one stays safe in the midst of the mental health emergency. Make sure that you know exactly how to administer the drug as well, so that it can be given safely and without a lot of issues. Sometimes, your loved one may fight getting the medication, but if you explain to them calmly that it is going to help them out, you are going to be more likely to succeed with your endeavors and the medication will have the time that it needs to kick in and help them to stabilize. 

Talk to them and help them stay "with you;" provide comfort for them. Comforting your loved one, or finding comfort for yourself, is a big deal in a mental health emergency. A lot of times, a person's mind will race during the process and they will struggle with what they have to do and be unable to communicate effectively. In some panic disorders, the person may feel "disconnected" and feel like reality isn't actually happening and isn't there. That makes it that much scarier in the midst of the emergency. So talk to them and help them know that you are there and that you are going to be there throughout the emergency. The comfort of knowing that you are nearby can help bring them back from the edge, so to speak, and it can really help them to become calm in the middle of the storm of the mental health emergency. This will also help you to stay calm too, so be sure to utilize this practice for yourself as well. Tell them nice things, tell them a happy story, share a memory, do anything that you can to bring them back to the now and help them to feel like you love and care about them, no matter how they may be reacting or what they may be going through in this moment. 

Don't leave the person. Even if you have to make a phone call, do not leave the person alone during a mental health emergency. It's not really safe for anyone that is involved. They are already scared and stressed out, so leaving them is just going to make them panic a bit more. If there are multiple people around, ask someone else to stay with them while you make the call or stay with them and have the other person make the call. That way, you can ensure the safety and stability of your loved one and it will help provide them with extra comfort as well. By making the situation feel safe and comfortable, your loved one is more likely to come out of the mental health emergency safely and you will be better able to move forward with life afterwards. 

Be patient. Sometimes, it just takes time to help your loved one out of a mental health emergency. It can be scary and stressful, but if you are patient and you make sure that they are comfortable and safe, you will start to see them come out of the fog that they seem to be stuck in. Don't yell at the person and don't get impatient with them - just be with them and stay calm (like we mentioned in the first step) and you will be a lot better at getting through the emergency. Even if it seems like it's taking a while for things to clear up, you will find that the patience actually helped to save your loved one from excess stress in the end. 

Discuss the emergency afterwards. This sounds like it may be difficult, and it may be at first. But if you or your loved one is going through a mental health emergency, make sure that you talk about what happened after everything has cleared up and gotten better. It may be scary for them to talk about at first, especially if they feel guilty for "putting you through that," but encouraging them to talk about it will help both of you better understand what needs to happen in the long run and how you can help them in the future. It will also provide some closure for everyone involved, and it may prevent miscommunication and other things that may occur as a result of a mental health emergency. Let them know that you still love them, that the emergency hasn't changed your view of them, and that you will be there for them no matter what sorts of things may come up in the process. 

So, as you can see, there is a lot that you can do in order to prepare for a mental health emergency. With the help of a therapist, you can be even better prepared for it and make sure that you and your loved ones are safe and get the care that they need in a time of crisis or emergency. A therapist can also help you with any questions or concerns that you may have, and can help you or your loved one work through troubles so that a mental health emergency is less likely to happen. Find a therapist today and get started on your journey toward total wellness and wholeness. 


Clemson Counseling and Psychological Services. (n.d.). Students in Distress: A Guide for Faculty and Staff. Retrieved June 4, 2014, from

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Newman, M. (2010, July 9). Managing a Psychiatric Emergency. Retrieved June 4, 2014, from

Rose, B. G. (2014, June 2). Would you recognize if someone had a mental health emergency? Retrieved June 4, 2014, from

U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs. (n.d.). Signs of Crisis. Retrieved June 4, 2014, from

About the Author

Marti Wormuth, MA Marti Wormuth, MA

Marti has a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and a Master’s in Communication Studies. Her favorite activities include reading, playing games, and hanging out with the students at her church. Marti volunteers with the youth ministry at her church as a teacher and mentor. Because of this, she recently started another degree, her graduate certificate in student ministries. She considers her current graduate work to be a stepping stone to becoming a youth pastor or a published author.

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