I’ve hinted at this on the blog, but I’ve been in a mental health crisis before. More than once, actually. This isn’t the time or place to discuss those crises in detail, though, because I want to focus on how I felt, what I did, and how all of that made me feel safe and secure. Based on my personal experience, I’ve had to basically teach myself how to have a mental health crisis. It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s what I had to do, and I think I am better for it. So now I want to share my experience.
For context, we will be using NAMI’s definition of a mental health crisis to build off :“A crisis might mean getting in trouble with the law or injuring yourself accidentally or on purpose. It’s also a crisis situation if you find yourself developing a plan to take your own life or are considering hurting yourself or others.” If there are other, more specific situations that you’re thinking of, I’d love to hear about them.
After my third panic attack, I got the sense that my mental health crises would get worse before they got better (and yes, it wasn’t after my first one – thank you mental health stigma!). So I decided to do some research. I scoured the Internet, I watched videos, I read blog posts and took up as much info as I could. I soaked up knowledge for numbers to call, people to talk to, and services to ask about if I am in a crisis. And while I learned a TON, I also saw that the widest-read articles simply told you to call 911 and let them handle it. And that was it. It didn’t sit right with me then, and it doesn’t sit right with me now.
Speaking on my past experience, and knowing what I know about my mental health, do I want a police officer in a mental health crisis? No. I want a trained mental health professional. What do I accomplish if I call 911 in a panic? Should I have to explain to the operator the nuance of depression? Should the person who is helping me through a crisis need to go through a checklist of how to talk to someone about my crisis? Shouldn’t we be able to call someone who already know these things? This is a real bit of advice I found from a mental health non-profit online (I emboldened what I find concerning):
In a true mental health emergency or crisis, if you believe that you, the person in question, or anyone else is threatened, call 911 immediately. Once 911 has been called and police or other responders arrive on the scene, you do not control the situation. You can encourage officers to view the situation as a mental health crisis, not a crime, and respectfully express your views on the outcome you desire, but you should not interfere with responders in the performance of their duties.
Y’ALL. How is this the best way to deal with mental illness in our communities? It can’t be. And furthermore, why is 911 a number that’s available at the ready, but the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and my local government’s Helpline are 1-800 numbers that I need to save as contacts if I have any chance of remembering? During a particularly troublesome anxiety attack, I had to use my phone to search the Suicide Lifeline Number – while having the anxiety attack! – so that I could call it.
Despite this frustration, I also know that it took me a long time to create the plans that I would enact if I experienced a real mental health crisis, and I want to help anyone else if they haven’t created a plan. The fact is, being more proactive is one of the few ways that helps me feel safe when going through a mental health crisis. And yes, there are instances where 911 needs to be called. But it shouldn’t be a reflex; it shouldn’t be the first thing we think to do. If you take anything from this post, I hope it’s that. And if you have questions, I’m more than happy to discuss.
Hi Nathan, as a mental health nurse, we encouraged ‘patients’ to form a Crisis Plan prior to their discharge from our services. Most found them helpful and like you, I’d advise people to have one. Even if point no. 1 is ‘to call a friend or family member you trust, to talk things through.’ This might help relieve any symptoms, before calling on professional. Caz x
This as an interesting read, and yes dealing with a mental health crisis is more than just calling 911!