Crisis can hit at any time. It can be unexpected as much as it can be something building over a period of time. It can feel all-consuming and be difficult to understand. It can be frightening, even if it's not a life-threatening situation. Here's what you should know and how you can help, whether the person in crisis is you or someone else in your life.
Crisis affects everyone - whether they are existential, spiritual, financial, or tied to mental health conditions. Being in crisis can be frightening, both for the person in crisis as well as their loved ones or caregivers. Typically, crises are brief, intense, and unexpected scenarios. They can be single incidents or "straws" (as in leading to the straw that broke the camel's back).
A critical element in crisis prevention, recognition, and resolution is relationship building. Whether this is yourself, a friend, or a family member, get to know what that person is struggling with. Are there triggers that bring on feelings of overwhelm or fear? Are there certain environmental factors that seem to consistently “set the person off”? Are there patterns that can help you identify the onset of a crisis state?
Here are a few common warning signs that someone may be in crisis, as shared by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
There are typically 3 stages to a crisis: pre-crisis, the actual crisis, and crisis resolution. We'll discuss each one.
The pre-crisis stage is important to understand and recognize. Higher levels of anxiety are typically present, as well as heightened awareness or increasing paranoia. As a crisis state evolves, a person's anxiety level increases, ability to reason decreases, and the person will ultimately come to a state of flight/fight/freeze.
Many things can lead to a mental health crisis; here are a few examples of elements that can contribute to a crisis:
Some specific examples of environmental factors might be:
Some individuals who are dealing with a mental health illness may not exhibit any warning signs - the crisis state may come on abruptly without any apparent trigger or warning. Remember, no one is to blame - not the person, nor the family, nor someone or something in their environment.
The best intervention is prevention. If you know someone has a mental health condition or has been in crisis before, take time to understand those aspects of the person. Get to know their goals for recovery or a healthier path forward, as well as their coping strategies. This becomes useful to help them if/when they are in crisis again. By building your relationship with them, you become a safe person if/when they are in crisis in the future. The time to build a relationship (with someone else or YOURSELF) is before a crisis. But what do you do once the crisis hits?
There is always a start and end to every crisis, even the crises that seem to last for days. As you are with the person (or yourself) in the crisis, the next steps will help lead to resolution.
If appropriate, encourage the person to talk through the experience with a professional mental health provider. If they don’t already have one, you can help the person work up a safety plan using this template. Validate the person and ensure them this experience does not change how you feel about them. Reinforce who and what their safe people and places are. If the person in crisis was YOU, know that crises can happen and that there is hope. You are a person of worth. There is help. For additional resources, visit https://www.hoperecoveryandhealing.com/crisis-support.