How to Help in an Emotional Crisis


Considering the prevalence of mental health disorders, there’s a good chance that someone you love will struggle with one at some point in time. Your support and intervention can make a world of difference when that happens.

Ask and Listen

If someone in your life is facing a mental health issue, you may start to notice changes in him or her. Signs that can tip you off to a mental health crisis include:

  • Changes in weight, sleep habits or mood.

  • Inattention to personal care.

  • Pulling away from people or activities.

  • Reduced attentiveness in matters of work or school.

When you notice changes such as these in a loved one, it’s time for a conversation, but prepared to listen more than you talk. Open the lines of communication by expressing interest in what’s going on in his or her life. The American Psychological Association encourages saying, “Let’s talk. You don’t seem like yourself lately. Is there something going on?”

As you talk, remember to keep judgment out of your words and tone. Don’t cast blame or express anger toward the way he or she has been acting. Lean on facts, not on your own feelings or opinions. The goal is for your loved one to trust that you will be a source of support, not of judgment.

Reach Out for Help

Although your support through your loved one’s emotional crisis is invaluable, he or she will also benefit from the intervention of a trained professional. You can help by encouraging him or her to visit a licensed therapist who has the training and skills to help people cope with mental health disorders. Professional intervention is key for people whose mental health conditions have become severe, but even if it’s not yet to that point, the sooner a person seeks out therapy, the better.

Your loved one might need your help in locating a therapist. Primary care physicians and workplace employee assistance programs can be good resources for finding recommendations. The APA’s Psychologist Locator is a useful online tool.

Look out for Signs of Suicide

Above all, be vigilant for signs that your loved one is considering suicide or other forms of self-harm. Sometimes people are afraid to bring up the topic for fear that it will give their loved one the idea, but your conversation won’t put the idea in his or her head. Rather, it’s important for you to ask about this tough topic, so that, if needed, you can get help for him or her right away.

If your loved one is considering thoughts of suicide, act immediately. The best thing to do is to take your loved one to the emergency room, where medical professionals can help. Make sure not to leave him or her alone, and remove all potential threats, such as weapons or pills, from the area where he or she is. Finally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available as a resource 24/7; you or your loved one can reach someone at the hotline at anytime by calling 1-800-273-TALK.

Mental illness is a challenge for both those who are affected and the people who love them, but the support of friends and family members can make a world of difference in the outcome.