Navigating a Mental Health Crisis

It can be frightening when you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis. You may not know what to do. A mental health crisis is when someone is experiencing symptoms that make them feel out of control or prevent them from being able to care for themselves. It can mean different things to different people.

Below are some ideas for navigating a crisis that you or a loved one is experiencing.

If You Are Experiencing A Mental Health Crisis

If you have experienced a mental health crisis in the past, you may want to plan ahead in case a crisis happens again. Planning head helps ensure that your preferences are honored during the crisis, and can sometimes help interrupt things before they rise to the level of a crisis.

Resources for Wellness and Crisis Planning
  • Wellness Recovery Action Plan (opens in a new window)
    Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) is a wellness process that anyone can use. It helps you figure out what you need to do to stay well, and how to plan for a crisis. You can create a WRAP on your own, or with help from people in your support network.
  • Madness & Oppression: Paths to Personal Transformation & Collective Liberation (opens in a new window)
    Drawing from the input of Icarus Project community members, this guide, examines the intersections of oppression and mental health struggles and takes you through the process of creating your own personal wellness document.
  • Making a Self Care Plan (opens in a new window)
    Tips for making a simple self care plan.
  • A New Kind of Safety Plan (opens in a new window)
    A simple safety plan for recording your personal crisis warning signs, what you can do to stay safe, and who can help during this time.
  • Navigating Crisis (opens in a new window)
    Key things to think about when you are dealing with mental health crisis.
  • Psychiatric Advance Directives: Forms to Prepare (opens in a new window)
    Psychiatric Advance Directives (PADs) are documents that you can use to specify your preferences for mental health care during times you are not able to give consent.

Need help finding tools and supports to include in your wellness or crisis plan? Reach out to the COMPASS Helpline! We provide resources and support to help people navigate the complex mental health systems, and help problem solve in difficult circumstances.

Learn more about the NAMI Mass COMPASS Helpline

Ask yourself what you need, or do not need, right now. Is there something you can do to make yourself feel better or distract you? Do you need the company of someone else, or would time alone be helpful? Would talking help? The focus is on you  – your number one priority right now is taking care of yourself.

Also ask when was the last time you ate or slept. Sometimes we neglect basic needs when we are not doing well, and that can worsen what we are experiencing.

You can try doing something that make you feel good or that distracts you from what you’re experiencing. Need some ideas? Read 21 Free (and Inexpensive) Self Care Ideas (opens in a new window). Also check out 30 Simple Self-Care Ideas To Improve Your Mental Health (opens in a new window).

Know that self care looks different for different people, and your self care needs can change moment to moment. Do what works for you right now.

If you think that you can’t manage this alone, reach out to a friend, family member, peer supporter or other support person that you trust for support. Not sure what to say when you reach out? Read 10 Ways To‘”Reach Out” When You’re Struggling With Your Mental Health (opens in a new window) for ideas.

If you do not have someone to reach out to – or think that talking with someone you don’t know about what you’re experiencing would be helpful – you could try a crisis call/text/chat service. Their operators are trained to provide support, resources, and referrals to people who are experiencing a crisis.

If you are already getting care from a mental health provider, like a therapist or psychiatrist, you may want to reach out to them for support. Many mental health practices offer urgent care for their patients, either with the patient’s provider or an on-call clinician.

If you you need to speak with a clinician urgently about what you are experiencing, you can call your local Emergency Services Program (ESP). ESPs – often called crisis teams – are staffed by mental health clinicians. They talk to people who feel they are in or near crisis, and try to help them find the supports they need to manage the crisis.

ESP services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can find the ESP serving your area, by calling 1-877-382-1609 and entering your zip code. You can also find a list of ESPs by location here:

If you need to speak with someone urgently about what you are experiencing and other options are not available (or your crisis involves a medical emergency) you can go to your local hospital emergency room. Like Emergency Service Programs (ESPs), emergency room providers will assess what you are experiencing to determine next care steps. Know that the care options that can be offered in the emergency room are often more limited than what an ESP can offer, and your ability to choose the care that you think will work best may be limited.