How to Help a Person in a Mental Health Crisis

Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD

“I think it’s really important to take the stigma away from mental health… My brain and my heart are really important to me. I don’t know why I wouldn’t seek help to have those things be as healthy as my teeth.” – Kerry Washington,  from HuffPost


“Mental health…is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.” – Noam Shpancer, PhD


“You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.” – Julian Seifter


Mental health is a tricky but particularly important issue. Unfortunately, the rate of mental health problems around the world is on the rise. Constant stress that people experience, changes that happen in their lives as well as many other contributing factors make mental health problems more common than ever. Moving to a new country is also likely to add an extra layer of stress to your life, at least temporarily.

There is extensive research demonstrating that people who move to other countries are more likely to have mental problems. They are more likely to suffer from mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. While we know that immigrants are indeed more vulnerable when it comes to their mental health, we do not know what the key factor contributing to the fragility of their mental health is.

One would imagine that, since throughout their journey (leaving their country and moving to a new one) immigrants face various difficulties, there would be various factors that put their mental health at risk. For example, when finding themselves in a new country, a person may experience financial problems, relationship issues, or simply be struggling with anxiety because of the uncertainty about their future. The person may also have a hard time acculturating into a new society and establishing social connections.

So if you know someone who has just moved to a new country – be it your friend, relative, or someone else – be aware that they may be at a greater risk of having anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, many people going through anxiety and depression are not able to realize that constant worrying or persistent sadness are actually symptoms of a mental health condition, rather than traits of one’s personality. They never seek help. In the case of people who have just moved to a new country, even when they want to seek professional help, they may be unable to find it because of the language barrier or other issues.

So how do you know that someone is struggling mentally? How can you help that person? And most importantly – how do you know if that person needs help? These are the answers that we will try to answer in this article.

So first, how can you tell when someone is going through a mental health crisis? There are certain warning signs which can tell that your friend is struggling mentally:

  1. People are not able to perform everyday activities such as getting out of bed, washing, and going to work or working at all.
  2. People who are experiencing a mental health crisis may have mood swings
  3. They have trouble staying still and concentrating on a task.
  4. They can be abusive to others; they can engage in substance abuse and even self-harm
  5. They withdraw from social life – school, work, and family.
  6. One of the most serious consequences of neglected mental health problems is a state called “psychosis”. When someone is suffering from psychosis they may be exhibiting a variety of disturbing symptoms. People experiencing psychosis are often likely to completely lose touch with reality to the point of losing the ability to recognize their partners, family, and friends. They feel confused, strange ideas are coming over them, and they may hear voices in their head.

How can we help if someone is experiencing a mental health crisis?


If you suspect that your friend or loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis – do not leave this person on their own. Do not judge them. Just stay present. Make sure to show them that you are not going anywhere and that you will be there for them for as long as they need. You can say something like: “I know that you are feeling unwell, I won’t go anywhere and if you want me to, I will stay here for you”. You can still support your friend or loved one in a healthy way even if you don’t fully comprehend what they’re going through.

When the person feels better you can give them more advice on how to manage their anxiety and depression. First of all, make sure that there is a medical professional looking after them. In fact, it is absolutely imperative that you encourage them to seek professional medical help as soon as possible. Whether it is a psychiatrist or a psychotherapist – there must be some medical professional that the person can turn to for help.

If for some reason the person has been unable to find medical help (and if this person is new to the area or having difficulty communicating with locals) help them find that medical professional. People with depression and anxiety are already more prone to bottling up their emotions and making no effort to help themselves (due to their condition). So you need to help them secure an appointment with a doctor – whether it is a recurrent appointment or their first encounter with a doctor.

There are some things that you must not do under any circumstances when dealing with a person who is going through a mental health crisis. Do not assume that you know how the person is feeling. Remember what they are going through is a very unique experience – so it is very unlikely that you actually understand the intensity of their emotions and feelings. So be patient and instead ask them to describe what they are feeling – that can actually distract them from their symptoms.

Do not tell them that they are exaggerating or lying to you. When a person tells you that they hear voices, do not make fun of them. Or if the person is telling you that they do not recognize you (which is a sign of psychosis), take that seriously. Do not dismiss their thoughts and feelings.

One especially important thing: if someone around you is going through an acute mental health crisis, immediate help is required. It is important to get in touch with a medical professional straight away. If you think that the person who is having an acute mental health crisis may hurt themselves or can even become a danger to people around them (including yourself) you need to contact emergency services.

In this article, we have talked about mental health illnesses and how you can help people suffering from them. It is very important to be supportive of them. Fortunately, in this day and age people with anxiety and depression can find very effective treatments – with and without using medication. 

There are effective medicines that can help them manage their conditions very well. It is true that it may take some time for people to find the right medication. It is also true that, unfortunately, some of these medicines do not start working straight away.

If your friend or loved one has been prescribed medication, encourage them to stick to it. Sometimes, while on medication, people begin to feel better and they decide to stop taking it. Once the person stops therapy, all the symptoms may come back. So that is why people experiencing mental health problems need support and constant encouragement to continue taking their medication.

People with fragile mental health who have just moved overseas need even more help and support. Apart from having problems with anxiety and depression, they may have difficulty seeking medical care and going to the hospital. They may be having difficulty settling in and establishing social connections.  






Dr. Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Dr. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and proven ability to effectively communicate with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is passionate about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese. He has lived in Russia, Australia, Spain and Brazil and he possesses first-hand knowledge about the issues that people face when moving to other countries and adjusting to a new culture. 

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