Organizing your thoughts and taking steps to feel better can be tough when you’re weighed down by mental illness. That’s why it’s important to think ahead. At a time when you’re feeling well and able, think through your mental health crisis plan. And write it down! You can see these steps as a worksheet below.
Who is your support system?
Think about the people in your life who can offer the positive supports you need. Thinking about specific things they can do to help you feel better will provide guidance during tough times. Some examples might include: someone you can call who will just listen, someone to hang out with even though you have low energy, or someone to take a slow walk with.
When symptoms become serious, it’s helpful to identify an emergency contact and list specific actions they can do to help you get back on track.
If you see a therapist or any other mental health professional, write down their contact information. Ask if you can contact them outside of your regular appointment time if you’re in crisis. If you can’t, identify a warmline, text line, or hotline you can reach out to.
It’s a good idea to share your crisis plan with your support system. Your friends and family can be more helpful if they understand how to see the signs of a crisis, and how you would like them to help you. This can also be a good way of starting a conversation about your mental health. It can also be helpful to create a psychiatric advance directive (PAD)—a plan for what happens if you are unable to make your own health care decisions.
See a mental health crisis coming—before it’s already here
Triggers are people, places, words, or situations that increase negative feelings. They can make it difficult to cope with mental health symptoms. When you’re well, it can be helpful to work on exposing yourself to triggers so that negative experiences are lessened when you’re stressed. For example, if going to the grocery store or crossing bridges is scary—take small steps to expose yourself to these situations. There are some triggers, like yelling, or abusive relationships that you might consider avoiding all together. Identify some triggers that you can work through. And identify if there are triggers that you should avoid.
Early warning signs are personal changes in thoughts or behaviors that signal that things are getting worse. The sooner you intervene when these signs occur, the better. Use the lines below to think about your early warning signs. Some examples might include: withdrawing for more than two days, feeling so agitated you haven’t slept for three or more days, or finding it difficult to get out of bed. When these signs occur, it’s helpful to list out your next steps for seeking help. This might include calling your treatment provider, or calling your emergency contact.
Actions to take
Stress can creep up on you when it seems like you have so much to get done and not enough time to do it. Or sometimes when symptoms of mental illness come back, normal every day activities become stressful. When stress comes, it often affects sleep. Identify steps you can take to reduce stress. You can use the list in the worksheet to get started.
You can also monitor your symptoms by regularly taking a mental health test.
Dealing with a crisis is hard! It’s even harder to come up with a plan when you’re already panicking. Having a crisis plan ready in advance can make things go a lot more smoothly—and might just save your life.
This worksheet is an excerpt from Mental Health America’s Mental Health Month 2016 Toolkit.