Crisis SupportMental Health

How to Support Someone Who’s Having a Mental Health Crisis

By September 12, 2023No Comments

It’s not easy to know how best to support family or loved ones who are struggling with a mental health crisis. By normalizing conversations around the topic, IntraSpectrum Counseling hopes to help: (1) break down the stigma and the negative cycle of misinformation surrounding mental health issues; (2) increase awareness; and (3) create strong and informed communities to better support individuals who are struggling with a mental health issue or a mental health crisis.

What is a Mental Health Crisis?
A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively in the community, or that puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others. When someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, they are under extreme emotional distress. You may be concerned about their mental state or their safety. You may also feel concerned for your own safety. If you find yourself in this situation, take it seriously. Always try to respond by offering support if it is safe to do so. The strategies and suggestions below can help. But think safety first and call 9-1-1 if it feels more appropriate.

Warning Signs or Triggers Leading to a Crisis
Some mental health crises can build up over time. While the person struggling may not show these symptoms, if you do notice these warning signs try to step in as soon as possible:

  • Decline in personal hygiene
  • Dramatic change in sleep habits, mood or behavior
  • No longer participating in responsibilities or daily routines
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Not leaving the house / apartment for extended periods of time

Stress, physical illness, a life change, personal loss or trauma, difficult news etc. can also trigger a crisis in someone with a mental illness. During this time, a person will be under extreme emotional distress. They may also be at risk of hurting themselves or someone else. Speak with the person who is struggling and encourage them to seek mental health treatment or contact their health professional. But think safety first and call 9-1-1 if it feels more appropriate.

Things to Do if You’re With Someone Who’s Having a Mental Health Crisis

  • Remain calm
  • Keep your voice smooth and steady
  • Talk slowly
  • Speak in low tones, no shouting
  • Listen to the person
  • Give the person space
  • Be respectful, compassionate and empathetic
  • Be a reflective listener
  • Genuinely express your concerns
  • Make eye contact
  • Don’t press on uncomfortable topics
  • Offer touch / a hug, but do not initiate it
  • Talk in a safe and comfortable space with minimal distractions
  • If the person cannot sit still, suggest taking a walk
  • Approach the conversation as if it were about a physical health issue
  • If the situation does not improve, seek guidance from a crisis resource or mental health professional
  • If you feel that you or the other person are in immediate danger or if a suicide attempt has been made, dial 9-1-1

Things to Say / Do, if Someone is Having a Mental Health Crisis

  • Let them know that their life matters to you and that you want to support them
  • Ask how you can help
  • Listen without judgment and make sure they know they’re not alone
  • Let them lead the conversation
  • Acknowledge how they feel
  • Reassure them that their feelings are valid
  • Give them hope and offer encouragement
  • Try to use “I” statements
  • Ask if there’s someone they’d like you to call
  • Ask if they’d rather you listen, or offer your perspective
  • Encourage the person to seek mental health treatment or contact their health professional
  • Ask if they are thinking about suicide
  • If you feel that you or the other person are in immediate danger or if a suicide attempt has been made, dial 9-1-1

If Someone is at Immediate Risk of Harming Themselves or Others

  • If they are in immediate danger or a suicide attempt has been made, dial 9-1-1
  • Think safety first: don’t put yourself in danger or make a situation worse
  • Remove anything in the immediate area that could pose a danger (e.g. weapons, improvised sharps, rope / cord, car keys, prescriptions, alcohol, street drugs)
  • If they are willing to go, take the person to the ER for attention if possible. Police departments may not be qualified or equipped to appropriately handle a non-life-threatening mental health crisis
  • Contact the person’s doctor or mental health professional
  • Stay with the person until help arrives

Things to NOT Say / NOT Do, if Someone is Having a Mental Health Crisis

It’s important to understand what comments may be unhelpful, or worse, damaging to someone who you are trying to support:

  • Don’t say, “everyone feels that way once in a while”
  • Don’t say, “just snap out of it”, or “change your attitude”
  • Don’t assume things about them or their situation
  • Don’t minimize or invalidate their feelings
  • Avoid talking too much; pauses in conversation can be beneficial
  • Likewise, avoid talking too loudly – low tones can be soothing
  • Don’t show / express hostility, annoyance or frustration
  • Don’t leave them alone without support or resources during the crisis
  • Don’t let the crisis go unaddressed due to shame or stigma (theirs or yours)

If There’s No Immediate Danger, But They (or You) Need Support

  • If the person (or you) need to talk to someone or get immediate support for a mental health situation that is important but not life-threatening, click here to access our collection of national and local-Chicago crisis resources
  • Ask the person if there’s someone you can contact for them, such as their therapist, a PCP or supportive family member who can offer follow-up assistance
  • If the person is not under the care of a therapist, encourage them to seek mental health treatment or to contact their health professional for follow-up services

IntraSpectrum Counseling is Chicago’s leading psychotherapy practice dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community, and we strive to provide the highest quality mental health care for multicultural, kink, polyamorous, and intersectional issues. For anyone needing affirming and validating support, please click here or email us at

IntraSpectrum Counseling is not a crisis center, and we do not provide crisis walk-in services or same-day crisis appointments. We do not maintain a crisis helpline, and our practice phone number is not staffed. If you are experiencing an urgent emergency medical or psychiatric assistance, or if you need to speak with a therapist immediately about a crisis situation, you should call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, contact Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s intake line at (312) 926-8100, or contact Weiss Memorial Hospital’s intake line at (773) 564-6250. You may also call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected with the nearest certified national crisis call center. Additionally, you may call the Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386 for crisis intervention and suicide prevention or text START to 678-678 to confidentially text message with a Trevor Project counselor.