Managing a Mental Health Crisis, When Should You Call 911?

You will need to assess the urgency of the situation to determine your actions and who to involve.

  • Is the person in danger of hurting themselves, others or property? This can include both actions and threats. Remember the definition of violence and all that it entails.
  • If the answer is yes, you need to call 911 and ask for immediate assistance or activate the emergency alert system.

What do I say when calling 911?

When you call 911 say that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, explain the diagnosis if you know it, and describe the nature of the emergency (why you believe they’re in danger of hurting themselves, others or property), your relationship to the person and whether there are weapons involved[1].

The 911 operator will ask for your name, the person’s name, age and description, the person’s current location and whether the person has access to a weapon.

  • Ask the 911 operator to send CIT officers if available, these are specially trained officers who work with people with mental illness and de-escalate situations. They’ll also be familiar with the community’s mental health resources.
  • CIT stands for Crisis Intervention Training.

Share this Information with the 911 Operator

  • Mental diagnosis and history (include hospitalizations).
  • Current and discontinued medications.
  • Previous suicide attempts, any current threats of suicide or self-harming behavior (e.g. self-cutting).
  • Prior violence, any current violent threats.
  • Drug use and the type of drug if you know it.
  • Current stressors.
  • Hallucinations, delusions, loss of touch with reality.

Be Specific

Be specific about the concerning behaviors, focus on recent events and right now as opposed to the past.

For example: instead of saying “my boyfriend is acting weird”, you can say:

“my boyfriend’s behavior is worrying me because he stopped taking his medication for bipolar disorder, has not been to work for the past three days, has not been sleeping, is constantly pacing and believes his co-workers ridicule him and want to harm him. He has been talking about “making them pay”, I’m afraid to talk to him, and I’m not sure if he’s planning to hurt someone”.  

After You Call 911….

Medical and or first responders and law enforcement may become involved. When they arrive, they will make a determination on the best course of action.

If you don’t feel safe staying with the person, leave the location immediately.

If you feel safe with the person: remain calm, allow the person to move freely, reduce noise and bright lights, don’t disagree or argue, announce your actions in advance (”I’m going to the kitchen to get some water”), use short and simple sentences. If the person isn’t talking, it’s ok to stay quiet.

What to do when Officers Arrive

  • Remain calm and explain that this is a mental health crisis.
  • Provide relevant and concise information about the person (diagnosis, medications, symptoms, threats, weapons, etc.).
  • Don’t yell, argue or be in the officers’ way. It’s important that the officers stay calm.
  • The officers may take the person to the ER, send him or her in an ambulance or allow you to transport your loved one to the ER. The important thing is to get the person an evaluation and needed treatment[2].