Coping with a Pyschological Crisis
David Prescott, PhD - Acadia Hospital
March 10, 2009
Crisis Calls a Sign of the Times: A recent report from Virginia noted a 20 percent increase in calls to state crisis and suicide hot lines compared to last year. One theory is that the economic stress of the past several months has led to an increase in such calls. While this may be true, it is important to remember that a psychological crisis can occur for many different reasons. But in each case, it is important to follow some basic coping tips to help you get through the crisis.
What is a Psychological Crisis and what causes a crisis to occur?
While specific definitions of a psychological crisis are somewhat subjective, hallmarks of a crisis usually include:
1. Feeling overwhelmed – People in a psychological crisis usually feel emotionally overwhelmed and unable to cope with such strong emotions.
2. Limited ability to identify steps towards solving a problem – One hallmark of a psychological crisis is that people’s ability to identify possible solutions to problems diminishes;
It it as if the person, at that moment, truly cannot generate options.
3. Feeling isolated and abandoning potential supports - Prior to the onset of a psychological crisis, people often become more and more isolated and stop looking to others to
share problems and get emotional support. People will describe feeling like they are the only person who feels the way they do.
4. Important life decision points - Often a psychological crisis occurs at a time when an important decision or life change needs to be made. While stressful, working through the
crisis can bring about productive long term change.
Common Mental Health Problems Associated with Crisis States:
Experiencing a psychological crisis does not necessarily mean that you have a psychological disorder. However, certain psychological disorders may be associated with times of acute crisis:
1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – People with PTSD often experience a crisis when they are re-exposed to the situation which caused, or reminds them of, the initial trauma.
2. Major Depression – People with major depression are at increased risk for suicide. An increase in suicidal thinking or preoccupation usually signals a psychological crisis.
3. Substance Abuse – Many drugs, such as alcohol, are associated with intensifying emotional experience, at the same time impairing judgment.
Taken together, these two factors may put a person in a crisis state.
4. Adjustment Disorders – Adjustment disorders are temporary changes in your normal feelings and behaviors in reaction to a significant stressor.
With support and help, people with adjustment disorders usually are able to work through the situation which causes the problem.
Tips for Coping with a Psychological Crisis:
1. Talk to Someone – Just talking about a problem can help. Talking helps take the edge off of intense emotions, and reduces feelings of isolation.
2. Brainstorm Solutions – One hallmark of a psychological crisis is that people are unable to consider potential solutions to the problem.
Just writing down 5 ideas for what you might do will help. Focus on taking on part of the problem, not the whole thing at once.
3. Avoid steps which make the problem worse – When you feel emotionally overwhelmed, there is often a tendency to do things which make the problem worse in the long run.
For example, using substances to numb feelings doesn’t really help in the long run. Or, putting off a difficult discussion with a loved one might make sense until you
feel less overwhelmed.
4. Get help immediately if suicide becomes an option – Research on suicide suggest that in a majority of successful suicides, the person who commits suicide actively
considered suicide for a relatively brief period of time. Given that fact, getting professional assistance (e.g., 9-1-1, hospital emergency room) immediately is crucial.
Use Crisis and Support Lines – Most states, including Maine have 24-hour crisis lines to help people at times of acute crisis. There are a number of options available including:
Adult Crisis Line: 1-888-568-1112
Youth Crisis Line 1-800-499-9130
Adult Peer-to-Peer Support (Warm Line) 1-800-490-8748
Domestic Violence (Spruce Run) 1-800-863-9909