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Identifying a Mental Health Crisis

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What is a mental health crisis? Would you know if you were having one? Could you spot the warning signs in someone else? Knowing how to identify and respond to a mental health crisis can prevent additional harm, and turn a difficult situation into an opportunity for true healing.

What is a Mental Health Crisis?

In general, the term “crisis” often implies an immediate, short-term problem that has the potential to cause considerable damage. In a mental health context, the definition of a crisis is similar, though the “short-term” descriptor may not always be appropriate:

  • A panic attack may be over in a matter of minutes. 
  • A psychotic episode could last for days or weeks. 
  • Depression, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental illnesses can cause extended crises that last for months.

So, given these potential variances, what is a mental health crisis? For the purposes of this post, we will define it as a period of elevated or unusually severe symptoms that impair a person’s ability to function and increase their risk of incurring long-term harm.

Signs that You Are Having a Mental Health Crisis

A definition can increase your understanding of what is a mental health crisis, but a few sentences may not be enough to help you identify a crisis involving yourself or someone else. For that, it can be valuable to understand what a mental health crisis might feel like or look like.

We’ll begin by addressing how you can tell if you are having a mental health crisis. The list below is by no means a complete accounting of every symptom that could signal a crisis, but it contains some of the more common warning signs. 

If you begin to experience the following signs and symptoms – and if these signs and symptoms represent a significant change from what you usually feel like – you may be in the midst or on the verge of a mental health crisis:

  • You aren’t able to focus or concentrate.
  • You feel like you’ve lost control of your emotions.
  • Your sleep habits have changed, which can include either hypersomnia (sleeping way too much) or insomnia (having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep).
  • You have vivid, disturbing nightmares.
  • You have trouble summoning the motivation to get out of bed and get on with your day.
  • You are nervous or tense almost all the time, and you are easily startled, as though you are under some sort of unseen threat or in imminent danger.
  • You cannot stop thinking about a terrifying event or series of events from your past.
  • You find it difficult to feel joy or experience pleasure.
  • You feel like you are detached from your surroundings, as if you are viewing everything through a fog or a warped pane of glass.
  • You have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Important note: If you believe that you are at imminent risk of harming yourself – or if you fear that someone you know may be in danger as a result of a mental health crisis – please summon help immediately.

If you live in the United States, you can contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 from any phone or visiting This free service is staffed 24/7 by trained professionals who can connect you with appropriate resources in your area.

How to Tell if Somone Else is Having a Mental Health Crisis

Since you can never know for certain what another person is thinking or feeling, identifying if someone else is having a mental health crisis requires you to draw an informed conclusion after observing their actions and behaviors. 

As we alluded to in the previous section, be sure to keep an eye out for changes. For example, being naturally introverted and preferring to spend time alone is not a sign of a mental illness. But if someone who is usually outgoing and active suddenly pulls away from loved ones and stops participating in events that they used to enjoy, that could be a sign that they’re in trouble.

With that in mind, here are some common signs that someone you know might be in the midst of a mental health crisis:

  • They exhibit extreme swings in both mood and energy levels.
  • They act with uncharacteristic aggression, recklessness, or even violence.
  • They suddenly seem prone to forgetfulness, which can include not paying bills or taking care of other personal responsibilities.
  • They neglect their appearance, grooming, or personal hygiene.
  • Their performance at work or in school declines dramatically.
  • They withdraw from friends, family members, and colleagues.
  • They stop participating in sports, hobbies, social events, or other activities that used to be very important to them.
  • They abuse alcohol or other substances.
  • They claim to see, hear, or otherwise sense things that no one else can detect.
  • They struggle to organize their thoughts and express themselves clearly.
  • They begin to talk about death and dying, which can include wishing that they had never been born or could “simply disappear.”

Getting Help After a Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis can occur for many reasons, such as:

  • Experiencing overwhelming stress or pressure
  • A major loss, such as the death of a loved one or the end of an important relationship
  • An undiagnosed mental illness
  • A diagnosed mental illness with symptoms that suddenly become much more severe

No matter what causes you to have a mental health crisis, it is extremely important to talk to a qualified healthcare provider. This professional can help you identify what may have contributed to the problem, assess the impact that it had on your life, and recommend appropriate treatment options. 

If someone that you care about has a mental health crisis, this same advice holds true. You can support your loved one, you can make sure they are physically safe, but you cannot diagnose or treat them. Your loved one needs to talk to a professional – and the best thing you can do for them is help them take this essential step.

Learn More About Mental Health Treatment in Atlanta

Peachtree Recovery Solutions offers life-affirming outpatient care for adults who have been impacted by depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and other possible causes of mental health crises.

Our mental health treatment center in Atlanta is a safe and welcoming place where you can receive personalized services from a team of highly skilled professionals. We can assess your needs, help you set short- and long-term goals, then develop an individualized plan just for you. Every step of the way, you can expect to be treated with compassion, dignity, and respect.

To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.