What is a mental health emergency? What is a mental health crisis?

A mental health emergency is a life-threatening situation in which someone has become an immediate danger to themselves or others, is in severe distress, has lost the ability to function independently, or is extremely disorientated or out-of-touch with reality.

A mental health crisis is a non–life-threatening situation in which someone has temporary thoughts of hurting themselves or others that they will not act on, is significantly distressed, is finding it difficult to function normally, or is agitated and cannot calm down.

What should I do during a mental health emergency?

An emergency, as the name implies, is serious enough to get health professionals involved immediately. The fastest way to do this is to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Emergency rooms are always open and hospital staff are trained to handle these type of situations.

What should I do during a mental health crisis?

If you are in crisis, then I would recommend that you follow the steps below, in order, until the crisis has subsided.

  1. Use coping skills. In sessions, we will discuss specific ways to cope with difficult situations. The goal is to use Distress Tolerance skills and healthy coping strategies to calm down and return to a normal level of functioning. These can be done alone. However, if you have tried numerous ways to cope with difficult feelings and feel like they have come up short, then proceed to Step 2.
  2. Reach out to others. Great benefits come from reaching out to friends and family. Usually they can help calm us down when we have difficulty calming ourselves. In addition to providing emotional support, they can also help us problem-solve challenging situations. Two heads are better than one! If these social supports are unavailable or you still feel poorly after speaking to them, then proceed to Step 3.
  3. Contact a mental health professional. Sometimes it takes a professional to help with a very challenging situation. If you are an active client of mine and are experiencing a crisis, then feel free to call me. Please note, however, that I am often not immediately available by telephone. For example, when I am in session with a patient, my phone will be turned off and calls will go directly to voicemail. In this case, please leave a message and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Same-day brief phone sessions (5-10 minutes) can usually be arranged, aimed at managing distressing emotions. If more time is needed, I can usually get clients in to be seen on the next business day. My policy is to take and respond to calls only between 9:00 AM and 9:00 PM. Messages left on my voicemail after hours will be responded to first thing in the morning. If a more urgent response is needed or you experience a crisis after hours, then proceed to Step 4.
  4. Call a hotline. A number of local and national hotlines exist to support individuals experiencing mental health crises. They take calls immediately and are open 24 hours per day. Three of the most helpful hotlines are provided below, but you can click here for a larger list of hotlines. If you feel that a hotline did not help you sufficiently, then proceed to Step 5.

    Baltimore County Crisis Hotline for Emergency Mental Health: 410-931-2214
    Baltimore Crisis Response, Inc.: 410-433-5175
    National Mental Health Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

  5. Proceed to the nearest emergency room. ERs are always open and hospital staff regularly help individuals manage mental health crises. They are trained and equipped to handle these types of situations. If you are located in the area and aren’t sure which hospital to attend, consider St. Joseph’s in Towson:

    St. Joseph’s Medical Center
    7601 Osler Drive
    Towson, Maryland 21204