The importance of creating a mental health crisis plan

The MIND 24-7 Team | August 8, 2023

Mental health is vital for everyone and can be especially challenging to manage during a crisis. Some mental illnesses may be chronic, but people often deal with symptoms that can change due to specific circumstances largely outside of their control. While some individuals may have a history of severe mental health symptoms and know they must prepare for a crisis, that may not be the case for everyone. For any state of mental health, having a mental health crisis plan is a critical way to ensure you and those you love can stay safe and get needs met. 

In this guide, we: 

  • Define what mental health crisis plan is
  • Explain why a mental health crisis plan is important
  • Describe four types of mental health crisis plans
  • Explain how to know you are in a mental health crisis
  • Describe the steps to create a mental health crisis plan 
  • Share how to get mental health care in minutes

What is a mental health crisis plan?

A mental health crisis plan is a guide created when a person is feeling okay so that they and the people in their life know what to do if an emergency arises. Whether or not someone has a mental health diagnosis, having a mental health crisis plan can be helpful. After all, every person’s mental well-being changes over time. 

Mental health crisis plans come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from informal notes to legal documents. People can create a mental health crisis plan on their own or with help from a therapist, friend or family member. The mental health crisis plan can be private or shared with others. Here are a few things to consider including in a plan: 

  • Descriptions of triggers and symptoms
  • A list of coping skills 
  • Relevant resources and information
  • Directions to follow during a crisis
  • Names and phone numbers of people in your support network

Why is a mental health crisis plan important?

Many people worldwide live with mental health conditions. For example, in 2022, 19% of patients in the United States were living with a diagnosis of depression, and 15% of patients were living with a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. Mental health crises can and do happen. Just like with any type of crisis, it is immensely helpful to have a plan in place. 

Mental illnesses are serious, and often preventable. Addressing environmental and social factors can play a critical role in preventing severe and lasting mental health conditions. Similarly, identifying personal strengths, meaningful relationships, and community support helps prevent and address mental health crises. 

It also is encouraging to note that all mental health conditions are treatable. Some of the most effective ways to address mental health conditions include raising awareness, getting a diagnosis early on and following through with an effective intervention. A mental health crisis plan is essential in each of these steps. It also is a crucial part of the journey to a healthier you! 

4 types of mental health crisis plans

Each individual’s mental health journey is unique. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health crisis plans. Here are four different types of mental health crisis plans: 

1. Wellness plan 

A wellness plan is a comprehensive plan you can create with your support team. A wellness plan aims to outline the steps for your overall mental health care. The plan may include: 

  • Wellness tools
  • Coping skills
  • Descriptions of stressors and triggers 
  • Early crisis warning signs 
  • A list of steps to follow in a crisis
  • Resources to access during a crisis
  • A post-crisis plan 

2. Safety plan

A safety plan is a specific type of mental health crisis plan people can make on their own or with a provider if they are considering harming themselves. A safety plan can include many of the same components as a wellness plan. Safety plans commonly include steps to make sure dangerous objects are removed from a person’s environment. It is also important to specify a safe place a person can go if they are thinking of harming themselves, how they will get there and who can help. 

Here are three resources to consider including in a safety plan: 

3. Joint crisis plan 

A joint crisis plan (JCP) is a psychiatric advance statement or guide prepared before a crisis that describes how to recognize and manage a mental health crisis. There are three critical parts to a JCP: 

  • Descriptions of the triggers that may cause a crisis
  • Explanations of symptoms and behaviors that may arise during a crisis
  • A list of strategies to manage and overcome a crisis 

4. Psychiatric advance directives 

A psychiatric advance directive (PAD) is a legal mental health crisis plan that gives a trusted person the authority to act on your behalf if a crisis occurs. A PAD is particularly important for those who experience severe symptoms, such as psychosis, and needs to be written when the person is stable.

How do you know if you’re in a mental health crisis?

There are many different types of mental health crises and many symptoms that arise during crises. So, how does one know they are in a mental health crisis? Here are some common symptoms and behaviors that may indicate a crisis is happening: 

  • Changes in mood that are sudden and drastic
  • Hallucinations, delusions or other signs of psychosis
  • Paranoia 
  • An increase in agitation or anger 
  • Expressions of violence 
  • An increase in substance use 
  • Suicidal ideation 
  • Thoughts of self-harm 
  • Prolonged depression
  • Excessive fears
  • Worries and anxieties that disrupt daily life 
  • Social withdrawal
  • Insomnia 

It is important to note that everyone may exhibit symptoms from time to time, such as difficulty sleeping. However, if the symptoms persist or make it difficult to handle daily tasks, it is crucial to get help. 

How to create a mental health crisis plan

There are a few different ways to create a mental health crisis plan. Here are several steps to consider:

  • Think about the motivation for creating a plan. Have you or a close friend or family member experienced a mental health crisis in the past? And are you looking to plan for a similar emergency? Determining the reasons for making a mental health crisis plan will help determine what type of plan to create and the items that need to be in the plan. 
  • While it is okay to create a plan alone, creating a plan with a trusted advisor also can be helpful as they can help identify important symptoms, triggers, coping skills and resources. That person may be a family member, close friend, doctor, religious or spiritual leader, or mental health professional. 
  • Write down your triggers, symptoms and medical needs. 
  • Make a plan of what to do if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis. This may include calling a crisis hotline, going to the emergency department, visiting a psychiatric urgent care or talking to a doctor. 
  • Identify a safe place to go, such as a psychiatric urgent care center, a crisis center, a friend’s house or your own home. 
  • Write down your coping skills. This may include breathing exercises, distress tolerance skills or distraction techniques, like watching a favorite movie or going for a walk. 
  • List the names and contact information for people who can help during a crisis. This may include close friends, family members, therapists, or religious or spiritual leaders. 
  • Make sure the plan is easy to access. It can be saved as a note on a smartphone, printed out and displayed or stored in a prominent place, and shared with loved ones. 
  • Each person’s mental well-being is constantly evolving. Update the plan regularly so it’s aligned with current needs and resources. 

Get mental health crisis care in minutes 

Need more support? Remember you are not alone and that it is okay to reach out for help. MIND 24-7 strives to make that easy. We currently have locations open around the clock in the Phoenix area with licensed mental health clinicians who can see patients immediately. Our doors are always open.

For help with a mental health crisis plan and to get mental health care in minutes, visit one of our convenient locations or text/call 1-844-MIND247.