More than 44 million Americans experience a mental health condition each year. Knowing the signs of a mental health crisis may help you manage your health or support a vulnerable family member.
Mental health signs: When to seek help
Signs of a mental health crisis differ among genders and age groups, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with them. Each particular mental health illness has specific symptoms, but there are general symptoms you can watch for. When two or more of the following signs come on suddenly, your loved one may be nearing a mental health crisis:
Adolescents to adults
- Confusion or strange thoughts (including delusions or hallucinations)
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive fears or worries
- Extreme feelings (highs and lows, anger, irritability)
- Social withdrawal
- Substance use
- Unexplained physical illnesses
Older children to pre-adolescents
- Increased negativity, anger or defiance
- Intense, unexplained fear
- Lawbreaking behavior (truancy, theft, vandalism)
- Physical complaints
- Problems coping with daily life or activities
- Sleeping and eating changes
- Substance use
- Change in school performance
- Change in sleeping, which may include persistent nightmares
- Changes in eating habits
- Excessive fear and worry
- Increased defiance, including temper tantrums
What to do in a mental health emergency
If you believe a loved one is nearing a crisis, these techniques can help diffuse the situation:
- Stay calm: Experts recommend keeping your voice even and calm. Move slowly and ask the person for permission to touch them rather than rushing toward them. Be patient and offer the person space, so they don’t feel pressured.
- Keep lines of communication open: Be an attentive listener and ask how you can help. Express that you are concerned and that you remain supportive. Suggest options that don’t feel threatening to the person.
- Avoid judgment: Stay away from arguments and from judgmental comments that could be misinterpreted by your loved one.
Some situations require emergency assistance. If you believe anyone’s safety is in jeopardy, contact 911 and ask for help. The 911 dispatch officer may ask for relevant information, including your loved one’s:
- Access to weapons
- Current mental state
- Experience with suicide attempts or violence
- Mental health history
- Substance use history
If you believe you or a loved one needs non-emergency mental health support, UCLA Behavioral Health Associates offers counseling and psychiatric services in seven locations. Make an appointment by calling 310-301-7396.