Taking care of yourself during a mental health crisis is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
When I was 7 my brothers and I built a rope swing. We took a couple of test runs and our childhood handiwork seemed to be functional. I was a little nervous to try it out so my older brother decided to give me a tutorial. He showed me where to put my hands so I could hang on, and then he took a swing to show me how safe it was. Well… the swing broke and my brother fell off, breaking his arm.
We sounded the parental alarm and adults were soon at his side. They whisked him away to the hospital where his arm was set by an experienced physician. A week later he went back and the doctors put on a hard cast, which he wore for 6 weeks until his arm was healed. Even after the removal of his hard cast, he was advised to “take it easy,” working back towards normal full use. He fully recovered from the injury and has had no lasting effects of a broken arm.
The system we, as a society, have in place for physical health is fully operational. Anyone who suffers a physical injury knows they can go to a doctor and get the help they need. There is no shaming or stigma attached to visiting a doctor when you are experiencing some form of ailment. So why then are we so hesitant to visit a mental health professional?
Start by Acknowledging Your Mental Health Crisis
I have personally experienced trauma, addiction, and chemical imbalances that have caused real emotional suffering. Yet, for years I was hesitant to visit a therapist. My justification was that I was strong enough to handle my struggles on my own. After finally meeting with a therapist I came to the conclusion that it took more strength to ask for help.
Like physical health, your mental health can be attacked from many different angles. You may get sick with a virus, appearing pale, sweaty, and vomiting. You may break your arm, walking around in a bright-colored cast. You may suffer a concussion, dilated pupils, blurred vision, vomiting, etc. Mental health is similar in variety, but the attacks are less apparent, at least on the surface. Most people won’t know you are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. You may not even realize the extent of your own ailment. You may simply feel alone and afraid because everyone else seems to be enjoying life with ease while you are fighting for every moment. Without any knowledge of how to handle the pain, you may be looking for a way out.
Get Help with Your Mental Health Crisis
So how do you handle an imbalance of your mental health? When the path isn’t clear and you are suffering, options can seem very limited. Perhaps you feel like you can’t share your struggle because of what others may think about you. Just like you would go see a doctor if you broke your arm, you can visit a therapist for your mental health needs. A good therapist will listen judgment-free and provide you with some guidance on how to proceed.
There are people out there right now who are suffering silently. You may be one of them. You may be in need of something you can do right now to get through this mental health crisis. You may be looking for a way out. First off, if you or a loved one is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255). They are well trained and can provide you with local resources. They may even discuss some of these steps with you.
These are some things you can do right now and moving forward to work through this difficult moment:
Stay present in this moment. Is anything hurting you at this moment? Look around you. Notice your feet on the ground, feel your toes in your shoes, notice the wind on your face or the humming of an appliance in the background. These are things constantly going on around us that we may not notice if we aren’t being present. An exercise like this can ground you to the moment. You may experience intrusive thoughts, those are not part of the moment, watch them go by like leaves floating down a stream. Only focus on what is right here and right now. The past is over and the future hasn’t arrived. All there is, is right now.
Take some deep breaths, grounding has a calming effect that will help you think more clearly.
There are people who care about you and/or people who need you. Your work isn’t finished and the effect you will have on the world is extraordinary. What do you love? What would you say is your passion? If you can’t answer that, take some time to ponder and try to land on something you absolutely love to do. Who are the people in your life that love you? Don’t say no one. Instead, dig deep and be truthful. When was a time that you didn’t feel like this? Focus on that time and ask yourself what was different. If you are trying to support a loved one, ask lots of open-ended questions. The goal here is to open awareness that there is more in your life than this mental health crisis or pain and things can be different.
Building the Future
Look forward. The future has the potential to be a blank slate. What do you want to do with it? The painful thoughts you are experiencing can go away if you let them, and the future can be completely different. You may feel like nothing is in your control, but that isn’t true. You always have choices. And, depending on how you decide to make those choices, your world could open up to a wonderful variety of choices.
What do you want?
Are you reaching out? Is this a cry for help and support? Do you want/need to make some major life changes because your current life is not manageable? Is your mental health crisis plaguing you and keeping you from seeing the light in the world? What is it you truly want, and is your current course of action getting you what you want? So often our desires don’t match our actions. We may want someone to love, yet we constantly argue and fight against the people around us, who are likely trying to love us. So ask yourself what your deepest desire is and check to make sure your actions are building towards that desire.
Make a list of things that work and help towards a more balanced and healthy future. Then make a list of things that are not helpful. You could come up with a specific plan, like calling someone specific when you are feeling down. Safety plans are as good as you make them and only work if you’re willing to follow them.
Access to Lethal Means
I always say that avoidance is the lowest level of overcoming a problem, but in many ways, it can also be a good first step. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, it’s probably a good idea to empty the liquor cabinet down the sink and skip the after-work trip to the bar. If you don’t want to end your life in an unstable moment, it is a good idea to get rid of lethal means from your house. Also, if you or a loved one have thought about a specific plan and has the means to carry it out please reach out immediately.
What to Do Post-Mental Health Crisis
Once you’re out of the crisis, you can work towards getting the help you need to stabilize and balance your mental health. This can be done through therapy and medication management. It is difficult, if not impossible to find that balance when you are in crisis. This can be done on your own but works even better with the support of a loved one and mental health professional.
We are working towards shining a more positive light on the very serious need for regular mental health care. Hopefully, it will become a familiar process like setting a broken arm. Unfortunately, a broken arm can’t be set if you never go to the hospital. So, please reach out
By the way, I never ended up taking my turn on that rope swing.
Zachary Duty, CSW
Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice.