If your child expresses thoughts of wanting to harm themselves or someone else, it can be difficult to know when it is time to act and what to do. The first step is always to stay calm and present with your child. Most importantly, do not shame your child or diminish their thoughts and feelings. No matter how irrational they may seem to you at the time, these thoughts and feelings may be very real for your child and put them at risk of harm.
- What makes it a crisis
- A crisis is a state of being that prohibits an individual from coping with and adjusting to stressors in a functional or safe way.
- A crisis occurs any time an individual can not (intentionally or unintentionally) keep themselves or others safe.
- Some warning signs of a mental health crisis according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness are agitation or sudden mood swings, drastic changes in energy levels, paranoia or excessive worry, isolation, abusive behavior, irrationality, and inability to perform basic tasks or be in touch with reality.
- Warning signs of suicide, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are similar and additionally can include increased substance use, feelings of hopelessness, withdrawing, fixation on death and giving away possessions, along with even a misleadingly calm demeanor. If you are concerned about a loved one who may be displaying these signs, ask, express concern and desire to help, and do not leave them alone if you sense there is immediate risk.
- Parents, a crisis situation exists any time that the child is no longer safe to themself or others or when there is a need for immediate action or intervention.
- What steps to take in a crisis
- First, identify the situation as a crisis according to warning signs. Parents can identify a child’s crisis if the situation seems like it is getting out of control and they fear they may not be able to de-escalate it
- Recognize a mental health crisis as being a medical emergency and that emergencies are always to be handled with urgency.
- Ask yourself: am I capable of keeping myself, or the individual, safe in this situation?
- Assure the individual’s safety by asking the individual if they have a safety plan.
- If help is needed, ask “what kind of help do I need, and from who?” You may need to utilize resources such as a support/sympathy “warmline” (dial 211), a 24/7 suicide hotline (ie: National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255), a treatment referral helpline (1‑877‑726‑4727), and/or community mental health crisis centers near you.
- Finally, establish if the individual in crisis can be transported safely by you to the nearest emergency room – it is important they do not go alone. In imminent danger, call 911 for assistance in transportation, and let them know there is a mental health emergency at hand.
- Association for Children’s Mental Health: What is a Mental Health Crisis & What to Expect When One Occurs
- National Alliance on Mental Illness: What to Do in a Crisis
- MentalHealth.gov: Get Immediate Help
- Healthy Place for Your Mental Health: Mental Health First Aid - How to Handle a Mental Health Emergency