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Mental Health Crises are Family Crises

Written by: Sandra Mann

I am a NAMI Wake County volunteer.  I am a facilitator (with my husband, Dale) for Family to FamilyBasics, and Family and Friends programs.  We are also Family Support Group facilitators and NAMI NC trainers of facilitators.  With this background I decided to volunteer with our NAMI Wake Helpline.  A very long time ago I received a B.S. and M.A. in Education.  But my real understanding and empathy has come from caring about and supporting our son who has lived with mental health challenges for over 20 years.  

Dear Mom, Dad, SpouseChild, or Sibling,   

Are you worrying about an adult family member that you love who may be struggling with emotional difficulties, behavioral challenges, or a mental health disorder?   

Have you wondered how to communicate with someone with a mental health issue? What can you do? What should you do? Ignore it and hope your loved one deals with it?  Try to make your loved one do something about itTake control and make things happen?  Hope that it all is just a phase in life and think that you can weather the storm? Each of these paths is a typical response, but none prepares a family should their loved one slide into a mental health crisis. One family member’s crisis often becomes the whole family’s crisis.   

Safety Nets for a Crisis

A crisis is when a situation becomes uncontrollable for everyone in the family. I once heard a psychiatrist compare these crises to going over a cliff.  What happens in a sudden crisis is often dramatic, sometimes violent, and definitely traumatic    

There are safety nets at the bottom of this “cliff.”  

  • A Call to 911 and the police (Know to ask for a Crisis Intervention Trained Officer  CIT officer)   
  • Hours or days spent in the emergency department of a large local medical hospital 
  • Voluntary or involuntary commitment to a mental hospital.    

 Each of these could be a typical outcome. Please know these “safety nets exist to save lives, and there may be times when a family must reach out for just these resources.   

But they are all fraught with additional traumaOften, families are caught off guard when mental health crises happen.  Everyone reacts to each other’s emotionality. NAMI families have shared the aftermath of these options. There is anger at each other and at the system. There are stories of additional trauma from individuals who were forced into these situations. If violence was stirred during the crisis, then there are often legal ramifications with court dates and legal fees. Families have also shared their worry and frustration at losing control of family decisions. And after the crisis  the police, an ambulance, a hospital stay  the family may still be facing an uphill battle toward peace and stability.   

Other Options

But what if we could install “safety nets” closer to the top of the cliff? Our North Carolina legislature has mandated that every county must have Mental Health Crisis Services that include: 

  • Crisis and Assessment phone number that connects community member in non-violent crisis to trained professionals who help navigate the crisis.   
  • Mobile Crisis unit which includes trained EMTs available for a “house call” in non-violent situations.  
  • A Facilities-Based Crisis and Assessment location is available for walk-in assistance.   

The link to each county’s resources is available here. Just select your county and click. During the COVID-19 pandemic and as we move toward our North Carolina Medicaid Transformation it would be advisable to start with the call to the Crisis and Assessment phone number. These mental health experts will know which resources are available. In Wake County, you can call Alliance Health at 800-510-9132.   

But we at NAMI want you to know that there are so many more safety nets available. AND we visualize them closer to the top of the cliff. We hope individuals with mental health concerns and their families will reach out for these resources before they find themselves enmeshed in a crisis.  These resources include: 

  • NAMI Guide – Navigating a Mental Health Crisis  
  • Help on where to go to find health insurance.  
  • Help on where to search for and what to look for in provider – Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Therapist, or other. More resources for finding a provider are listed at the end of this post.  
  • Out-patient programs at many of our local mental health hospitals and larger provider practices.   
  • Support Groups –for someone living with mental health issues and for their family members. Check NAMI websites and/or contact a local NAMI affiliate to register. Other options include: Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) Mental Health America (MHA)7 Cups of Tea (one on one), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). Currently most support groups are offered virtually.  
  • Education classes on communication, problem-solving, finding understanding and empathy, and de-escalating family tensions. Contact a local NAMI Affiliate to register for classes.   
  • Mental wellness programs

Redefining Recovery

We at NAMI want to spread the news that recovery is possible. Mental health can be visualized on a continuum from mental illness to mental wellness and the very large space in between. We believe that recovery is not managing illness; it is discovering and working toward wellness. It is not fixing what is broken, but remembering and using personal strengths to achieve goals. It is rediscovering wholeness, meaning, and purpose.  

With this in mind, the best time to prepare for a crisis is when things are going wellBeing aware of the cliff” can help focus a person and their support system on the value of wellness techniques.   

Programs at the top of the cliff include: 

  • Psychiatric Advanced Directives. North Carolina information here 
  • NAMI Peer to Peer Educational program information hereContact a local NAMI to register. 
  • Wellness Recovery Action Plans (WRAP 
  • Resiliency techniques and places/agencies offering resiliency skills training There are internet searchable agencies offering training in North Carolina.    
  • Programs that focus on healthy life-style choices – nutrition, sleep, not smoking, fitness, meditation, mindfulness.  These are found throughout the community.   

We at NAMI carry hope and advocate for those with mental health issues and their families. We stand at the top of “the cliff. We work toward a community that offers help with housing, food, work programs, and health insurance. We advocate for more providers and organizations that employtrain, and support them.  We advocate for research into the best approaches for mental health treatments. We work to help all community members feel included, respectedheard, and treated equitably 

We at NAMI work to fight the stigma around mental health treatment.  Stigma is why families stand at the top of the cliff and wonder……. How do we communicate? What should we do?  Ignoreforce, deny, control?   This stigma pushes individuals closer to the cliff and creates reluctance to reach out. We at NAMI want individuals with challenges and their families to know that there are many resources available. We encourage you to reach out for them early and often.

General Information: 

Help in Finding a Provider: 

For help with finding resources or just to talk to someone, contact the NAMI Wake Helpline at 919-848-4490 or email us at  We receive your call as a voicemail and return calls and emails daily.   


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