Thinking about the ‘worst-case scenario’ isn’t generally a pleasant activity, but it could give you the reassurance you need to proceed with confidence

Planning for a mental health crisis might feel daunting, and it’s important not to get stuck in a negative spiral. But some gentle preparation can be reassuring, helping us to think about what we can do to better support ourselves, or what help we might need from others.

We all have moments when we feel like life is overwhelming, and we need a reset button to start afresh. When you have a mental illness, there can be times when you can find yourself unravelling to the point where you may look to harm yourself, experience suicidal thoughts, or be unsure of whether you are able to keep yourself safe.

Sometimes, when we’re very ill, we can’t express our wants and needs, so having a plan lets the people around us know what to do in times of crisis. Planning before things get rough means you’ll have the right help and support ready to go, which gives you and your loved ones peace of mind.

Planning for difficult times is vital if you live with a long-term mental illness. Your crisis plan should be personalised, so it fits your needs. Here are a few things we can do ourselves to prepare for the future.

Before a crisis hits

Talk to your doctor about treatment options and support in your area, and create a list of what’s available, along with important numbers and opening times for services.

You can also research local or online support groups, and peer support services. People with similar experiences can still offer a different perspective, and can share their insights, as well as advice and coping strategies.

It can also be helpful to put together a box with items you find comforting. Fill it with things that distract your mind from negative thoughts, like your favourite book, movie, and mementoes that remind you of happier times. Together, this prep work will enable you to have support to hand as times get tough.

Make a plan with the people closest to you

When a crisis happens, often loved ones want to do anything in their power to help – but they may be unsure exactly what that is, or what you specifically need. This is why it can be vital to make informal plans with your loved ones, so they clearly understand the next steps and ways they can support you best. Talk it through together, write down what you’ve decided, and ensure everyone has a copy.

The plan should include contact details for your doctor and community support team if you’re too unwell to reach out directly. Let them know what treatments you’d prefer, and which you do not want, which can help them to speak up on your behalf. You should also include how you want them to help you – so add examples of what you will find helpful and what they shouldn’t do, which could be things to say, distractions, activities, etc.

You might want to choose someone you trust to advocate for you to doctors and other professionals, to ensure your needs are met. They can express your views and wishes, and stand up for your rights. It can also be helpful to let your loved ones know what to look out for before a crisis hits. Explain what to watch out for, such as drastic changes to your mood and behaviour, and what these might look like for you.

Formalise your wishes with an advance statement

An advance statement is a written statement formalising and explaining your wishes for times when you can’t express them yourself, that doctors and healthcare professionals will consider when deciding on a treatment. It’s not legally binding, but it should be looked at by the people in charge of your care.

Your advance statement should include your treatment preferences, such as whether there are medications you don’t want to take, or if you wish to stay at home or in hospital. You might need to explain how a religious or spiritual belief should be part of your care. Consider also your general lifestyle matters, and how you like to do things, such as if you prefer a bath or shower; your likes and dislikes, such as a favourite scent, your favourite foods, or if you prefer being indoors or outdoors. Plus, who you would like to deal with your bills and benefits, and who you’d like to look after any children or pets if you are unable to yourself, for a period of time.

No one enjoys thinking about the worst-case scenario, and that’s what a mental health crisis is. But having a plan in place, just in case, for that ‘what if’ moment will make you feel more in control and calmer. You deserve to have your needs met, and the best support possible, and a crisis plan can be a way to ensure your treatment will start on the right track.

If you need support with your mental health, visit the Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.