What to do in a mental health crisis or emergency


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 have a plan for dealing with a crisis, follow this

If you’ve already been given a Crisis Line number from a health professional, call it. Or, 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.

Making an urgent GP appointment or phoning 111

If you, or someone else, requires urgent care but it is not life threatening, you should make an emergency GP appointment or call 111 if your GP practice is closed. For example, this could be:

  • if you have an existing mental health problem and your symptoms get worse
  • if you experience a mental health problem for the first time
  • if someone has self-harmed but it does not appear to be life-threatening, or is talking about wanting to self-harm
  • if a person shows signs of onset dementia 
  • if a person is experiencing domestic violence or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

The NHS 111 service also has a team of mental health nurses who can let you know about the right local support for you.

When to phone 999 or visit A&E

You should call 999 or go to A&E if you, or someone you know, experiences a life-threatening medical or mental health emergency. These are cases where there is immediate danger to life or physical injury. A mental health emergency should be taken as seriously as a medical emergency. If you feel like you may be close to acting on suicidal thoughts or have seriously harmed yourself, you should call 999 or go to A&E directly if you need immediate help and are worried about your safety.