Consumer Health

What to Do If You Are Concerned About Someone’s Mental Health or Substance Use

What to Do If You Are Concerned About Someone’s Mental Health or Substance Use

 Mental health and substance use are increasingly common and we all need some basic tools and skills to assess, support and protect people experiencing these disorders. A behavioral health crisis can take many forms—self-harm, panic attacks, suicidal ideation, overdose on drugs or alcohol—but no matter what kind of crisis someone might be going through, you can help.

 Make sure to stay with your loved one while they’re at risk and do not hesitate to get them professional help. The most important thing you can communicate in a crisis is that you are concerned for your loved one’s well-being, and that they can lean on you for support. Use an empathetic, non-judgmental tone to encourage your loved one to talk about how they feel. Avoid minimizing their problems or giving advice as this may create distance between you and upset them further. Reassure them that whatever they’re experiencing is not their fault.

Remember that you are not a trained professional; if you feel out of your depth you may want to include other family members, your place of worship, community groups, or local crisis services for additional support. It’s important not to be afraid to ask directly if they are thinking about suicide. This question does not make someone become suicidal but it does help both of you determine what to do next. Allow your loved one to stay in control. Offer them choices on how you can help them. Reassure them that it’s okay to seek help, even if they think that they can cope without it. Usually your loved one will agree they need help; sometimes however, you may need to unilaterally make this decision if you decide it could be in their best interests and personal safety.

 Help your loved one develop a crisis plan before a crisis happens. A crisis plan is a document that contains important information and outlines how to manage a crisis situation, such as:

  • Phone numbers of mental health professions, family members and friends
  • A list of current prescription medications, doses and diagnosis
  • Any history of suicide attempts, psychosis, hospitalizations or drug use
  • Triggers and coping mechanism that have helped in the past

People may need a crisis intervention and/or go to the hospital if they:

  • Threaten or try to take their lives or hurt themselves or others
  • See or hear things (hallucinations)
  • Believe things that aren’t true (delusions)
  • Have problems with alcohol or substances
  • Have not eaten or slept for several days
  • Are unable to care for themselves or their families, e.g., getting out of bed, bathing, dressing
  • Need to make a significant switch in treatment or medication under the close supervision of a doctor
  • Have any symptom of mania or depression that significantly interferes with life


Call 911 or go to the Emergency Department if it is a life-threatening emergency. Notify the 911 operator that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for an officer trained in crisis intervention or trained to assist people experiencing a psychiatric emergency.

In a non-life-threatening emergency, Bergen County’s Designated Psychiatric Emergency Screening Program (201-262-HELP/4357) will connect you with a crisis specialist who can come to your home and provide mental health evaluations, crisis intervention counseling, and assessment for services. Open 24/7.

Englewood Hospital Inpatient Psychiatry (201-894-3142). Our inpatient unit is for adults requiring a brief admission for assessment, monitoring, and stabilization of symptoms.

NJ Mental Health Cares (866-202-HELP (4357) is New Jersey’s behavioral health information and referral service. Open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

IME Addiction Access Center (844-276-2777) can provide information about substance use services throughout NJ. Open 24/7.

Reach NJ (844-732-2465) helps people with Medicaid or who are uninsured find an appropriate inpatient facility. Open 24/7.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK/8255) has trained crisis counselors to speak with 24/7.

Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive crisis support via text message.

Mental Health and Substance Use: By The Numbers

There are an estimated 44.7 million adults (that’s 18.3% of all U.S. adults) with a mental illness; 10.4 million of these adults had a serious mental illness (that’s 4.2% of all U.S. adults) significantly impacting their daily life. In the past year, 20 million adults (8.4%) had a substance use disorder. Almost 8 million American adults battled both a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (co-occurring disorders).

Information referenced from NAMI 2017, SAMHSA 2014, Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance website.

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