This information has been compiled by NAMI Main Line PA (https://namimainlinepa.org/). Nothing in this document should be considered legal advice; for legal advice, you should see an attorney. The information is presented in two sections:
I. Resources for Coping with a Crisis
If you or someone you know is having a mental health crisis, you can
- call or text 988 (the new national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – you will be referred to the nearest crisis call center based on your area code; Spanish available as an option),
- call the crisis line for the county where the person in crisis is located (a better option if your area code is not local and you are in Southeastern Pennsylvania (numbers shown below))
- call 911 (e.g., if there is immediate danger of physical harm; connects you to local 911 call center based on GPS).
In Southeastern Pennsylvania, the county crisis lines are:
Bucks County: 800.499.7455
Chester County: 877.918.2100
Delaware County: 855.889.7827
Montgomery County: 855.634.4673
Philadelphia County: 215.686.4420
These crisis lines provide access to free, confidential, compassionate crisis counselors who are specifically trained for dealing with mental health crises and may provide better help and reduced risk of arrest. Someone is available 24/7 to assess the situation, arrange for an in-person evaluation, and/or make referrals as needed.
Lifeline Chat, available 24/7, is a service of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, connecting individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat at https://988lifeline.org/chat/.
Mobile Crisis Teams
When appropriate, the county crisis counselors (see phone numbers above) can dispatch mobile crisis teams that come to the person who is having a mental health crisis. Trained mobile crisis response teams are available 24/7 to help families cope with immediate situations. Support includes telephone counseling, mobile on-site help, referrals to other services, emergency respite and evaluations.
“Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency” (https://www.nami.org/About-NAMI/Publications-Reports/Guides/Navigating-a-Mental-Health-Crisis) is a useful general resource that is available in English and Spanish. This guide includes warning signs of an impending crisis or suicide, strategies to help de-escalate a crisis, resources, and more.
For advice on how to cope with a mental health crisis, see:
For advice on getting treatment during a crisis, see:
- Navigating and Understanding the Inpatient Hospitalization System
In some situations when an individual is involved in a serious and potentially life-threatening psychiatric emergency or severe behavioral health crisis and is unwilling or unable to consent to treatment, state law authorizes court-ordered inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment without the individual’s consent. For more information about involuntary commitment for inpatient treatment, see https://namimainlinepa.org/voluntary-and-involuntary-commitment-to-inpatient-hospitalization/.
If you experience problems in communicating with healthcare providers due to HIPAA regulations, see https://namimainlinepa.org/strategies-family-members-can-use-to-communicate-with-mental-health-professionals/.
For advice on coping with the criminal justice system, see https://namimainlinepa.org/info-resources/criminal-justice-resources/.
The National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database allows the general public to search for and add new missing persons, add physical and circumstantial details, photographs, dental contacts and other critical pieces of information, create and print missing persons posters and track cases (https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Search and https://www.namus.gov/Dashboard). Additional resources and advice are available at http://www.nami.org/missing and https://www.outpostforhope.org/is-someone-lost.html.
II. Strategies to help Prevent and Prepare for a Crisis
Strategies to help prevent a crisis include the following:
- Treatment programs such as assertive community treatment (PACT) can help to prevent mental health crises or relapse. Many resources for finding treatment, including free or low-cost treatment, are available in “How to Get Government Services” (https://namimainlinepa.org/info-resources/how-to-get-services/) and “Introduction to Services for Individuals with Mental Illness and their Family Members In Southeastern Pennsylvania” (https://namimainlinepa.org/info-resources/intro-to-services/). For additional information, contact your local NAMI affiliate (http://www.nami.org) and/or your County Office of Behavioral Health or Mental Health.
- Call your local Warm Line to receive telephone-based supportive listening. Warm Line numbers for the Philadelphia metropolitan area are available in our Intro to Services page, available here.
- Use strategies to improve communication with a loved one who has a mental illness (Communicating with a Loved One Who Has a Mental Illness | NAMI MAIN LINE PA).
- Take a course such as:
- Family-to-Family – NAMI’s Family-to-Family course includes sections on working to avoid crises and planning a family procedure for responding to crises. In addition, valuable skills that can improve your loved one’s long-term prognosis can be learned in Family-to-Family. For a Family-to-Family in the Main Line area, see https://namimainlinepa.org/support/family-to-family-education-basics-programs/.
- Getting off the Emotional Roller Coaster – This course for family members of people with certain mental disorders, includes information about crisis management, limit setting, self-care and more.
- LEAP – LEAP stands for listen, empathize, agree and partner, which is an effective method for coping with anosognosia.
- Mental Health First Aid – In this course you will learn warning signs for mental health and addiction problems, strategies for how to help someone in both crisis and non-crisis situations, and where to turn for help. A helpful summary of advice for caregivers of people with mental illness is available at https://mhfa.com.au/sites/default/files/1407-W_MHFA_carers_guidelinesA4V2.pdf.
- QPR – QPR stands for Question, Persuade, Refer. This suicide prevention training program teaches you how to recognize warning signs of suicide, effectively question people who are at risk for suicide, persuade them to seek help, and refer them to services.
Strategies to Prepare for Crisis include the following:
A Mental Health Advance Directive (Psychiatric Advance Directive) allows a person with mental illness to indicate his/her treatment preferences and designate a Power of Attorney for health care who can be authorized to make treatment decisions on his/her behalf in the event of a mental health crisis. Advice to help you understand Advance Directives and decide if you want one is available at http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Public-Policy/Psychiatric-Advance-Directives-(PAD). My Mental Health Crisis Plan is a mobile app that can be used to create a psychiatric advance directive. Directions and forms for a Mental Health Advance Directive and Power of Attorney in Pennsylvania are available at https://www.disabilityrightspa.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/DirectionsForUsingCombinedMHADDeclarationAndPOAFormMH-7-MAR2018-1.pdf. Additional information and advice on mental health advance directives is available at:
If you have concerns that a crisis may arise, it is helpful to notify the police and other first responders in advance that a household includes a person with a severe mental illness, so the police can respond in an informed manner if an emergency arises. Knowing a person’s medical situation ahead of time can be important for quick and educated responses that increase safety and the likelihood that the person will receive appropriate treatment rather than arrest during a crisis. The Pennsylvania Premise Alert System (http://www.papremisealert.com/) provides families with a uniform method to alert first responders with information about persons who have mental illness. Only legal guardians, those with Power of Attorney, or the person with the mental illness can complete this form. Copies of the completed form should be given to the local police. The information will be put into the 9-1-1 system for future use. The information should be updated every year or two. A similar form for residents of Philadelphia is available at https://www.phillypolice.com/programs-services/mental-health-911-services/ (click the link and scroll down to download the Disability Questionnaire). This form also should be given to the local police.
The Vial of Life project provides important information for first responders when a person is unable to communicate this information. Information about medications, copy of advance directive, etc. is put in the vial, and the vial and a Vial of Life decal are put on the refrigerator. A second decal is placed on the front door. Since this is not a wide-spread program in this area it’s probably a good idea to notify fire/police that you have this information available. A Vial of Life kit is available at http://vialalife.com/.
Additional helpful advice for avoiding and/or preparing for a crisis can be found at:
Last updated in July, 2022.