A teenager talks to his mother about creating a mental health crisis plan.

You Might Want to Make a Mental Health Crisis Plan

July 2, 2024

6 min.

A mental health crisis plan is important because it helps manage sudden severe mental distress, and helps keep people in crisis safe.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Sarah Lyter

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process

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You Might Want to Make a Mental Health Crisis Plan

July 2, 2024

6 min.

A mental health crisis plan is important because it helps manage sudden severe mental distress, and helps keep people in crisis safe.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Sarah Lyter

Learn more about our Clinical Review Process

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Trigger warning: Suicide. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or are in danger of harming yourself, this is a mental health emergency. Contact The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline 24/7 by calling or texting 988.

Developing a crisis plan is a crucial step for anyone navigating serious mental health challenges. It provides clarity, empowerment, and readiness during difficult times. Whether you or a loved one faces conditions like depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, having a structured plan in place can make a significant difference. Below, we will explain the importance of creating a crisis plan, its benefits, and the various kinds that you can tailor to suit your unique needs.

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What is a mental health crisis plan?

A mental health crisis plan is a personalized, structured plan that outlines steps to be taken during a mental health crisis. This crisis intervention is designed to help people manage their symptoms, ensure their safety, and guide others in providing appropriate support. A mental health crisis plan can provide reassurance and guidance during challenging times, ensuring that the person receives the appropriate mental health care and support. Here are the key components typically included in a mental health crisis plan:

Personal information

This includes basic details (name, date of birth, emergency contact information).

Signs of a crisis

A list of early warning signs and symptoms that indicate a mental health crisis may be developing.

Triggers

Triggers include the identification of specific situations, people, or environments that can trigger a crisis.

Coping strategies

A list of effective coping mechanisms and activities that help alleviate symptoms (e.g., breathing exercises, listening to music, calling a friend).

Support network

Contact information for trusted friends, family members, and mental health professionals who can provide support during a crisis.

Medical information

Details of current medications, dosage, prescribing doctor, and any known allergies or medical conditions.

Crisis services

Information on local mental health crisis services, hotlines, and emergency services.

Preferred treatment and support preferences

Preferences for treatment and care during a crisis, including any hospital preferences and the type of support desired from friends and family.

Action plan

Step-by-step instructions for what to do during a crisis, including who to contact and where to go.

Copies of any relevant legal documents, such as advance directives or psychiatric advance directives, specify the person’s treatment preferences if they are unable to communicate.

5 types of mental health crisis plans

Below, we will explore five different types of mental health crisis plans, each designed to address various needs and situations, helping you or your loved ones navigate challenging times with confidence and support.

1. Crisis prevention plan

A crisis prevention plan is designed to anticipate and mitigate the onset of mental health crises by identifying personal triggers and early warning signs. It includes a detailed list of triggers that exacerbate symptoms, such as stressful situations or specific interactions, and a comprehensive inventory of early indicators suggesting escalating distress. This plan also incorporates proactive coping strategies tailored to the person’s preferences and needs, including mindfulness exercises, engaging in physical activity, or seeking support from trusted people. By implementing preventive measures and maintaining regular activities that promote mental well-being, people can effectively manage and potentially avert crises before they intensify.

2. Emergency response plan

An emergency response plan outlines specific actions to take in the event of a mental health crisis, ensuring immediate safety and stabilization. It includes clear, step-by-step instructions for handling emergencies, such as contacting emergency mental health services or a crisis hotline and identifying safe environments or locations where support can be accessed. This plan typically includes essential information such as emergency contacts, details of current medications, and any medical conditions that emergency responders or caregivers need to be aware of. By preparing for crises in advance, people and their support networks can respond promptly and effectively, minimizing risks and ensuring appropriate mental health care during critical moments.

3. Hospitalization plan

A hospitalization plan focuses on preparations and preferences related to potential psychiatric hospitalization during severe mental health crises. It specifies preferred hospitals or psychiatric facilities where the person feels comfortable receiving treatment, along with essential information such as current medications, treatment history, and legal documents like psychiatric advance directives that outline treatment preferences. This plan also includes contact details for family members or designated support persons who should be notified in case of hospitalization. By documenting these preferences and logistical information in advance, people can ensure smoother transitions and receive appropriate behavioral health care aligned with their needs and preferences during periods of acute crisis.

4. Post-crisis recovery plan

A post-crisis recovery plan focuses on promoting recovery and stabilization following a mental health crisis. It includes steps and strategies for regaining stability and returning to normal activities, such as scheduling follow-up appointments with mental health professionals, engaging in self-care practices, and monitoring mental health indicators. This plan also identifies and utilizes support resources, such as support groups or community services, to aid recovery. By developing a structured recovery plan, people can navigate the aftermath of a crisis more effectively, build resilience, and maintain long-term mental well-being.

5. Mental health maintenance plan 

While not exactly a crisis plan, a mental health maintenance plan is essential for maintaining mental health and preventing relapse after a crisis. Unlike a post-recovery crisis plan, it’s not meant to be used right after a crisis but rather when stabilization is achieved following a crisis (this could be days or weeks later). A mental health maintenance plan includes strategies and activities designed to support and sustain mental well-being, such as regular therapy or counseling sessions, medication management, self-care practices, stress reduction techniques, healthy lifestyle choices, social support systems, and crisis management resources.

The importance of creating a mental health crisis plan

Creating a mental health crisis plan is essential because it helps people and their support networks prepare for and manage potential crises effectively. By outlining triggers, early warning signs, and coping strategies in advance, crisis planning empowers people to take proactive steps to prevent crises from worsening. 

During a crisis, having a clear plan with instructions on whom to contact and where to seek help reduces confusion and ensures swift and appropriate actions are taken. This sense of preparedness provides people with a sense of control over their mental healthcare and helps coordinate support from family, friends, and a mental health professional. 

Additionally, a crisis plan promotes continuity of care by documenting medications, treatment history, and healthcare preferences, ensuring consistent and tailored support during difficult times. By openly discussing and planning for mental health challenges, people can also reduce stigma, foster understanding, and create a supportive environment that aids recovery and well-being.

Who needs to develop a mental health crisis plan?

Developing a mental health crisis plan is essential for anyone who faces mental health challenges, including conditions like depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s also valuable for people with a history of suicidal thoughts, substance use disorder, or significant stressors. Caregivers, family members, and close friends can benefit by participating in the planning process to better understand how to support their loved ones through their crisis response. 

Essentially, anyone concerned about managing their mental health effectively should consider creating a crisis plan. It helps prepare for crises, ensures proper support services are available, and enhances overall readiness to cope with mental health challenges.

A young woman discusses developing a mental health crisis plan with her therapist.

How Charlie Health can help 

If you or a loved one are dealing with mental health challenges, Charlie Health is here to help. Charlie Health’s virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides more than once-weekly mental health treatment for young people and families dealing with serious mental health conditions. Our expert clinicians incorporate evidence-based therapies into individual counseling, family therapy, and group sessions. With this kind of holistic online therapy, managing your mental health is possible. Fill out the form below or give us a call to start healing today.

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