Better Understanding the Term ‘Mental Health Crisis’

I’ll be honest, friends. I liked my post on Tuesday about what to do in a mental health crisis, but I think there was one thing I glossed over that I’d like to return to. The reason I wanted to share about what to do in a mental health crisis was that I wanted to stress the importance of knowing where to turn, who to call and how to be safe. But one thing I should’ve considered more is figuring out what it means to be in a ‘mental health crisis’ – so that’s what I’m doing today.

Mental health crisis. What does it mean? Who has had one? Who is allowed to have one? Much like when I looked up the definition of mental health, it’s harder to unpack and define a mental health crisis than it should be. But I’m not looking for the definition today. Instead, I decided to look at some criteria for what’s deemed a mental health crisis and examine some of the language used and what those words mean. So today, I chose three different explanations from leading mental health organizations.

From the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

A mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively in the community.

NAMI Website

From Very Well Mind:

In mental health terms, a crisis refers not necessarily to a traumatic situation or event, but to a person’s reaction to an event. One person might be deeply affected by an event while another individual suffers little or no ill effects. The Chinese word for crisis presents an excellent depiction of the components of a crisis. The word crisis in Chinese is formed with the characters for danger and opportunity.

Very Well Mind

From Health Partners:

For the purpose of the use of crisis teams, Minnesota law defines a mental health crisis as a “behavioral, emotional, or psychiatric situation which, but for the provision of crisis response services, would likely result in significantly reduced levels of functioning in primary activities of daily living, or in an emergency situation, or in the placement of the recipient in a more restrictive setting, including but not limited to, inpatient hospitalization.”

Health Partners

There are a lot of similarities and differences here, and I hope you read through these statements as we work to understand – there is no one rule of thumb here. But I also want to focus on some of the words use. Or. While. But. When figuring out what a mental health crisis is, we can’t look at a checklist and make sure that every box is checked. Truthfully, if any one of those criteria fits, you would be concerned.

This conversation is rooted much more in learning and understanding, seeing signs and being able to recognize and act on them. It isn’t easy, but education is the next step after awareness. And in a mental health crisis, clicking on the first link you see on the Internet may not always been what you need. As with so many other things in the mental health world, there is nuance to this topic because of of the uniqueness of every person and situation. And by talking about these differences, we have a better understanding of how mental health is different for each one of us.

How would you define a mental health crisis? What is something you want people to know? Let me know in the comments!


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