What can I do if my loved one has a mental health crisis?

Being prepared for a crisis by learning about resources and support services allows you to act fast and make good decisions.  You may find the information contained in the section of NAMI’s website on Getting Treatment During a Crisis to be particularly helpful.  You may also find our NAMI Guide, Navigating a Mental Health Crisis to be extremely informative.

We would urge you to read through the information on our website on Being Prepared for a Crisis.  There, you will learn about developing a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, which can be very helpful in planning for your loved one’s overall care and how to avoid a crisis. 

Calling the Police

Involving the police in a crisis can be an extremely stressful situation for all concerned.  Should your loved one need emergency assistance during a mental health crisis – before dialing 911 – contact the non-emergency phone number for your local police department and ask if they have a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT).  Explain that your loved one is experiencing a psychiatric emergency and that you need assistance.  

CITs are emergency-response police officers who are trained to de-escalate a situation for those experiencing a mental health crisis.  To learn more, please consult the Calling 9-1-1 and speaking with the police page on NAMI’s website.  You may also wish to visit the CIT database to determine if there is a CIT service provided in your community.

 Alternative Option – Mobile Crisis Unit (MCU)

An alternative option to consider: a Mobile Crisis (MCU), or Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, is an emergency mental health service offered by many (but not all) counties across the nation to provide on-scene evaluation, treatment and crisis interventions in the community.  The teams specialize in providing these services to individuals who are experiencing a mental health emergency and who need, but are unwilling or unable to seek, mental health treatment.

While the goal of the MCU is to enlist the individual’s cooperation and develop the least restrictive treatment options, the MCU is authorized to recommend and facilitate involuntary hospitalization and treatment when necessary.

The criteria for requesting an MCU varies depending upon the county or city mental health agency.  However, a person experiencing a crisis that presents a danger of harm to self or others - and is unwilling or unable to accept emergency services - would qualify for mobile crisis services.  If about you are unsure about the availability of mobile crisis services in your area or when it’s appropriate to call, contact the emergency mental health services in your county for more information by dialing 211.

Local Emergency Mental Health/Walk-in Psychiatric Service

If your loved one is receptive to treatment, an option to consider is taking your loved one to a local emergency mental health/walk-in psychiatric service facility.  These resources and services vary by County/local jurisdiction and can be found by searching the website of your County or local jurisdiction’s Department of Health and Human Services.  Once on the website conduct a search for the term “crisis” or searching for “Emergency Mental Health Services” in your area.  Services may include:

  • Walk-in emergency psychiatric services. Often associated with community/county mental health services.  A clinician will assess the risk and help secure appropriate services.  This may include medication, detoxification, or even hospitalization.
  • Crisis Stabilization Units. Small, inpatient facilities of less than 16 beds for individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis whose needs cannot be met safely in residential service settings. structure, support and counseling support.  Can be an alternative to hospitalization or a “step-down” setting upon leaving a hospital.  CSUs try to stabilize the person and get him or her back into the community quickly. 

 Finally, the Treatment Advocacy Center's "Get Help" section of its website provides extensive information on how to respond in a crisis. 

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