Almost everyone has heard of a disaster or fire safety plan, but did you know it’s possible to have a safety plan for your mental health? It’s more important than you initially think, and crisis plans have saved lives.
A crisis safety plan is instructions you come up with to guide you should you ever have a mental health emergency. By making a plan now and sharing it with those you trust, you help your future self navigate what may be a scary and stressful situation. Many therapists and mental health professionals encourage anyone — regardless of whether they are in treatment or not — to devise a crisis plan.
Why a Crisis Plan Is Important for Mental Health
There are many reasons why someone may need a crisis plan. For those that struggle with a chronic mental health condition, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it’s important to be aware of escalating harmful behaviors. Self-harming, isolating oneself, and suicidal ideation are all dangerous behaviors that can quickly get out of control. It’s helpful to have a plan in place in case you cannot manage your mental health on your own or if you are in danger of harming yourself or others.
We are all taught what to do in case someone is choking or has a stroke, but rarely what to do if you are in psychological distress. Psychological distress can be caused by many things. Some examples include the sudden death of someone close to you, experiencing a traumatic event, or struggling with substance use disorder (SUD). When symptoms become overwhelming enough that there is a real danger of self-harm harm, the person experiencing these symptoms needs immediate help.
Even those who do not have a current mental health disorder benefit from a crisis plan. Just like how we are encouraged to plan for a “just in case” scenario, so should someone plan for a mental health emergency. You never know when you will need help.
The 4 Essentials for a Mental Health Crisis Safety Plan
A crisis plan should map out four things, including:
- Warning signs and behaviors to keep watch for
- Healthy coping skills that work for you
- Numbers and contacts for your support network
- Emergency numbers and addresses
These all should be written out in clear language and kept in multiple places. Many people keep their crisis plans on their phone so that it is within easy reach. If you need help creating a plan, any mental health professional can help walk you through the steps. For those already in treatment, creating a crisis plan is standard as part of the recovery process.
#1. Warning Signs and Behaviors
These are signs and behaviors that may seem small at first. However, these can quickly spiral out of control and cause a mental health crisis. Examples include self-harming behavior, restrictive and over-eating, suicidal ideation, and self-isolating. These are behaviors that you and others should be vigilant for to prevent said behaviors from getting worse.
#2. Coping Skills
These are a list of healthy skills and coping methods used to help navigate negative mental health symptoms. Examples include breathing exercises, meditation, therapeutic activities, and stress-relieving activities. These should be activities that reduce your amount of stress and help you regain a positive outlook on your life. A therapist or any other mental health professional can teach someone healthy coping skills to help them navigate their symptoms.
#3. Contacts for Your Support Network
You should have a list of people that you trust that you can contact in any emergency. Speak with these people first before you add them to your list, and make them aware of your mental health. For example, you may have a friend who stays up late. They let you know that you can contact them should you ever have an emergency in the middle of the night. You may also have an online gaming group that you meet up with on a regular that encourages you. A support network is vital to keep people from isolating themselves and making their negative symptoms worse.
#4. Emergency Numbers and Addresses
These are numbers and addresses to emergency facilities and hotlines that can take you into care should an emergency. The most common example is the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which provides 24/7 support for those in distress.
You will also need the numbers and addresses of your local hospital or 24-hour emergency facility that treats mental health disorders. Therapists will sometimes have a crisis line that can be called in an emergency. Keep the names and numbers of your treatment providers in an easily accessible place. Make sure your support network knows how to get these numbers should you need them.
It also helps to visit these facilities ahead of time and ask them about admission protocol in the event of an emergency. Doing so removes a lot of guesswork and helps them help you in the fastest way possible.
Making Others Aware of Your Mental Health
When you make a crisis plan for your mental health, you should let those that you trust know about it. Common people to be made aware of your plan are those that are most in contact with you, such as a close friend, spouse, or therapist. These are people that can help you should you be unable to help yourself.
When you are calm, talking on the phone may be easy. During a crisis, however, it can be difficult. Having a trusted person who can help you call for help reduces pressure and gets you to help faster.
Remember that your mental health is important, and you deserve to be cared for. Everyone deserves help, regardless if there is an emergency or not. By making a crisis plan, you help protect yourself and encourage others to do the same.
Much like how it’s critical to know what to do in case of a fire or a natural disaster, so too is it important to know what to do in a mental health emergency. Having a crisis plan helps yourself and others get the help that you need should you be in distress. A crisis plan is useful to anyone, regardless if they have a mental health disorder or not. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we can help you find the most effective treatment for your needs and walk you through creating a custom crisis plan of your own. If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental health disorder, call (949) 647-4090 today.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.