What to do in a mental health crisis or emergency

Hands

Mental health is a varied area of medicine. The nature of a mental health crisis always depends on the particular circumstances of an individual and there is no one-size-fits-all approach as people experience a wide variety of symptoms.

Some people feel highly agitated, anxious, in despair, experience suicidal impulses or the need to self-harm, are immobilised by depression, or are frightened when they are in the changed reality of psychosis. Others feel confused or delirious because of an infection, overdose, illicit drugs or intoxication with alcohol. Confusion may also be associated with dementia.

The crisis may be a sudden deterioration of an existing mental health problem, or a person may be experiencing mental health problems for the first time.

If you are under the care of a mental health team and have a specific care plan that states who to contact when you need urgent care, you should follow this plan.

Acute emergencies

If you or someone you know experiences an acute emergency, you should call 999 and ask for the ambulance service or the police.

These are cases where there is immediate danger to life or physical injury. For example, this could be if someone has taken an overdose of medication and is showing signs of its effects, such as slurred speech or sleepiness.

When someone is threatening aggression, holding a weapon, or committing or about to commit a serious assault, ask for the police.

Crisis

If you, a family member or friend require urgent care but it is not life threatening, you can call NHS 111.

You should call NHS 111 in the following circumstances:

  • if a person is experiencing a mental health problem for the first time
  • if a person with an existing mental health problem is suffering a relapse in their symptoms
  • if someone has self-harmed in a way that clearly does not immediately threaten their life, or is talking about wanting to self-harm
  • if a person shows signs of onset of dementia
  • if a young person leaves care
  • if a person is experiencing domestic violence or physical, sexual or emotional abuse

However, if you've already been given a Crisis Line number by your GP, or are under the care of a mental health team and have a specific care plan that states who to contact when you need urgent care, you should call them instead.