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What is a mental health crisis?

Poor mental health impacts our ability to function. When our mental health deteriorates to such a significant level that we can’t function at all, it can be considered a crisis.

Metal health crises are sadly becoming more common. If you’ve never experienced or seen one before, they can be scary, but there are ways you can help defuse the situation and help yourself or something through a difficult time.

In this piece, we’ll look at what a mental health crisis is, what can trigger them, and how to deal with them effectively.

What is a mental health crisis?

Someone can be said to be in crisis when they are no longer able to function in their daily life. They may be experiencing intense physical or mental stress, and may even be a danger to themselves or others.

A mental health crisis looks different for everyone. Some people may be in a highly energetic or manic state, others may be completely catatonic and silent.

It’s important to remember that anyone can experience a mental health crisis, even someone who hasn’t experienced poor mental health before. They can be triggered by a single event, or a combination of things, or a slow build-up of long-term stress or difficulty.

What can trigger a mental health crisis:


Stress can have a huge impact on our mental health. Of course, everyone handles stress differently, and some of us are more resistant to stress than others, but everyone has a limit of how much stress they can take.

Chronic stress at work can lead to burnout, and often people experience a mental health crisis when they reach this point and then continue to work, instead of taking time off or speaking to managers.


Prolonged anxiety can contribute to a mental health crisis. Being constantly anxious can take a heavy toll on our mental and physical health, and makes us more susceptible to a crisis.

Lack of control

While stress and anxiety factor into this, if a person feels a lack of control or agency over their own life, pressure can build over time, until they experience a crisis. Feeling in control of our lives is a deep and powerful need we all have. Losing that sense of control is frightened, disorientating, and can have a destabilising impact on our sense of self.

What are the signs of a mental health crisis

A mental health crisis can take many forms, below are some of the symptoms a person might display.

Extremely high or low energy

Someone experiencing a mental health crisis may be in a manic state, unable to sit still, concentrate, or contain themselves. Others may have almost no energy at all, unable to move or speak.


A common symptom of a mental health crisis is hyperventilating. Panic attacks can also occur. This is a result of our body going into the fight or flight mode, flooding our system with adrenaline.


Someone experiencing a mental health crisis may not be able to regulate their emotions properly, lashing out at others if anything isn’t going well. They may also suffer from mood swings.


A mental health crisis isn’t always visible. Someone may be experiencing a mental health crisis if they aren’t showing up for work, cancelling on friends, or losing interest in things they used to enjoy.

How to help someone in a mental health crisis:

Remove them from the triggering situation

If the crisis appears to have been triggered by a particular situation which is ongoing, try to get them away from that environment, ideally to somewhere quiet.

Listen to them

Sometimes the best thing we can do to help someone in crisis is to listen to them. Often we aren’t able to fully express ourselves, or externalise what we’re feeling. When someone is in crisis and talking very loud or fast, they may not respond well to advice, or breathing exercises, or other techniques we’ll suggest – they just want to be heard.

Empathise with them

Following on from listening, empathising with someone struggling can help defuse a difficult situation. Understanding how they feel, and realising how you would feel in their place, is a powerful tool in helping them feel heard and accepted.

How to prevent a mental health crisis in the future

Some of the best ways to prevent a mental health crisis are based around changes that we can all make in our lives. Not everything listed below will be enough on its own to prevent a crisis, they are widely reported to help improve resilience during periods of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Learn relaxation strategies

Breathing exercises and meditation are great ways to control your stress levels and relax your mind and body. These techniques allow us to manage our stress over the long-term, but also in the moment when difficulties arise.

Eat well and exercise

One of the best ways we can protect our mental health is by taking care of our bodies. Our physical health and our mental health are intricately linked, and a lack of sleep, high amounts of caffeine, or a lack of nutrition can make us more susceptible to stress and depression.

Establish boundaries

Boundaries play a key role in protecting our mental health. Stress at work is one of the leading contributors to poor mental health. Limit your exposure by taking regular breaks, not working through lunch, and stopping work at the end of the day.

This can also be helpful in your personal life. If someone demands vast amounts of your energy, try settings boundaries with them to protect yourself.

Get professional help

If you’re experiencing poor mental health often, or for long periods of time, professional help can provide support and personalised coping strategies and safety plans.

We offer mental health support for adults, as well as children and young people. If you’re looking for other services, we have a mental health service directory that can help your find support across our boroughs.

Seeing or experiencing a mental health crisis can be scary, but there are ways to deal with it. We can offer support, advice, or just listen.

If you or someone you know is nearing or experiencing crisis, we can help. Call or visit one of our Safe Space locations, where you can get advice, support, or just have a chat.

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Posted on: 30th August 2022

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