Is 988 the right resource for you? Understanding mental health crises and finding the help you need

Find the best crisis support for your needs from this list of crises 988 counselors are trained to provide assistance.

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Photo courtesy of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

If you’re experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be a great resource for you. However, it’s important to know that 988 might not always be the best place to start when you need help. While the 988 service is comprehensive and widely accessible, if you or the person you are assisting isn't currently experiencing a crisis, the counselor may redirect you to other resources, causing a delay in accessing the right assistance.

Remember, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a free, nationwide 24/7 resource that can be reached over the phone, via text or through online chat. For more information on what this process looks like, read What to expect when connecting with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

To determine if 988 is the best place to start, here is a list of crises that 988 counselors are trained to assist with. This list can guide you in determining if 988 is the right resource for you, or if reaching out to a different resource first might be better. If you want to explore other options, read Finding the right crisis support: Alternatives to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

What is a mental health crisis?

According to PsychHub, a mental health crisis is when a person’s emotional or mental condition endangers themselves or others and/or hinders their ability to care for themselves or function effectively in their community. Mental health crises may occur suddenly or as a result of a long-term mental health challenge. 

The National Council for Mental Wellbeing identifies the following examples as potential or definite mental health crises, but this list is not exhaustive. Please know that the following list contains phrases and concepts that are serious and may be distressing to some people. If you have a strong reaction to these examples, then please stop reading and practice self-care or contact a trusted mental health support.

Examples of mental health crises

Having suicidal thoughts or engaging in suicidal behaviors. Examples include:

  • Thinking that things won’t get any better or that there is no reason to live.
  • Preparing to end your life, such as spending or allocating all your money and possessions, creating a plan or writing goodbye notes.

Experiencing delusions and hallucinations, such as thinking something is true when it is not true or experiencing something others aren’t experiencing.  Examples include:

  • Feeling unsure about whom you can trust or what is true about yourself.
  • Hearing voices or seeing things that no one else can hear or see.

Having a panic attack, overwhelming anxiety, or overwhelming depression. Examples include:

  • Feeling stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts that feel very scary.
  • Being unable to do your daily tasks, such as shower, eat or go to work multiple days in a row.

Contemplating substance use or experiencing negative effects from substances. Examples include:

  • Contemplating using substances when in withdrawal, recovery from a substance use disorder, or to cope with an overwhelming situation.
  • Not feeling well, feeling scared, or feeling very anxious after using substances.

Having feelings of aggression toward others or wanting to harm yourself. Examples include:

  • Having urges to physically harm another person or a group of people.
  • Feeling like you need to harm your own body with a weapon, dangerous activity or substances.

Experiencing strong emotions that are hard to navigate after a traumatic event. Examples include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, alone, or not sure what to do after witnessing violence or being the victim of violence.
  • Feeling distraught, having a panic attack, or having thoughts of suicide following a scary event such as a car accident or fire.

In some cases, mental health crises can become medical emergencies. In the case of a medical emergency, it is essential to seek medical care before addressing the mental health challenge. According to MedlinePlus, medical emergencies include breathing problems, unconsciousness, heavy bleeding, sudden confusion or weakness and excessive vomiting or vomiting of blood. If you or someone you know is experiencing a medical emergency due to a mental health challenge, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. 

Regardless of the mental health challenge or crisis, there is help available, and there is hope for recovery. Starting the journey to recovery may involve contacting 988, a mental health support resource, or other resources available in your community. Remember that any step towards seeking help is a step closer to recovery.

Opportunities to connect

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of programming and resources to support yourself or loved ones undergoing mental health distress including a suite of mindfulness courses. MSU Extension also offers Mental Health First Aid, which teaches individuals how to recognize and respond to the signs of a mental health challenge or crisis in their loved ones and communities.

The Managing Farm Stress website offers a variety of resources and information for individuals in the agriculture industry and their families. These resources include teletherapy services, the Rural Resilience virtual training program, and other helpful tools

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