What is a mental health crisis?
A mental health crisis is a temporary mental state that anyone can experience, and can occur once or several times during a lifetime. A crisis can be caused by a sudden and unforeseen event, such as a loss of a loved one, a sudden change in circumstance, or a natural disaster or accident. It can also occur as a result of things that have developed over a longer period of time, such as a long-term illness, financial problems or a separation. The hallmark of a crisis is a feeling of being overwhelmed and unable to cope with everyday life.
How a person deals with a crisis can vary. You may feel the need to talk about what you’re going through with others or it may be natural to internalise your thoughts and withdraw slightly. It’s common for your perspective of things to change. It’s important to speak to a psychologist, doctor or lawyer (depending on the cause) if a crisis becomes unmanageable.
Symptoms of crisis
There are many different feelings and emotions involved in a period of crisis. People react to crises in different ways but these are some common symptoms that may be present:
Loss of identity – you and your reactions may start to become unrecognisable
Emotional reactions – you may experience strong emotions such as guilt, worry, anxiety, sadness and anger
Cognitive changes – you may have difficulty concentrating and remembering things
Sleep disturbances – this can include having trouble feeling asleep or waking up early
Changes in appetite – you may eat more or less than usual
Escapism – you make seek distraction in habits such as drinking or gambling
You may also be experiencing suicidal thoughts or self harming.
What help is available during a time of crisis?
There are many services available in the community that can help you in a crisis.
If you have had thoughts about harming yourself or taking your own life, you need urgent medical help. You can go to A&E, arrange an emergency GP appointment or contact your Crisis team if you are already under their care. There are a number of suicide help lines that you can call, such as the Samaritans, National Suicide Prevention Hotline or SANEline, with trained staff who are used to dealing with these situations.
If you’re finding it difficult to cope with everyday life, you may need professional help from the health service. You may also want to seek help if you feel you’re ‘stuck’ in a crisis and have not progressed for a long time.
Assessment and treatment
If you seek help from your GP or doctor you will be first asked to describe your personal situation so the possible cause of the crisis can be identified. This may include describing your work and family situation as well as any previous illnesses or events that have affected you recently. Your physical symptoms and any current ongoing medical problems will also be considered in the assessment.
Treatment will vary from person to person and depends on the individual assessment. You may be offered counselling, medication or a combination of both.
What can you do to help prevent a crisis?
There are multiple things you can do to help plan for and prevent a possible crisis. Research has shown that social support is one of the most important factors in coping with difficult life events so it is important that you surround yourself with friends and family. At the same time, this may not come naturally to some people and dealing with things yourself can be helpful so long as it is not for an extended period of time.
Below are some other things to consider:
Try to maintain your daily routines, even though this can be difficult
Eat and exercise regularly
Make sure you get exposure to enough sunlight each day
Avoid regular alcohol consumption
Try to get enough sleep and rest. The need for recovery may increase because the body has a stress-like response and it takes both time and energy to get through a crisis
Try and give yourself a break from the crisis – do something normal and everyday that you enjoy.
Don’t be afraid to ask others to help
How can Livi help?
Book an appointment with a doctor if you feel you're becoming overwhelmed with everyday life.
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Alessio Platania, Lead GP at Livi