The second worst day of my life was when I found out my oldest child was suicidal. The next day, we sat in a therapist's office and discussed the next steps and how to keep our child safe. And none of it felt like enough. Eleven years later, it still doesn't feel like enough. Having a child who has tried to take their life takes away any sense of control, perceived or otherwise, you think you might have. You can take back control by creating an emergency action plan for your child.
An emergency action plan lists critical pieces of information that people in your child's life need to know in case of a mental health emergency. Where to go. Who to call. What your child has been diagnosed with. What medications they are taking. If they have a history of drug use. All the ways to contact you and your partner or another trusted adult. Who are the people not to get in touch with. What a crisis looks like for your child.
The emergency action plan should include anything that could save precious time when your child is in crisis.
If your child suffers from a mental health disorder, specific care centers in your county provide in-patient and out-patient services. They have therapists and psychiatrists and offer 24-hour emergency services. They often also serve as the gatekeepers for insurance companies if your child should require hospitalization.
Your child's therapist should be able to give you the name of the care center in your county. If your child is over eighteen, you can contact the behavioral health specialist at your local medical center. Let them know you are the parent of a child with a mental health disorder and are creating an emergency action plan. Your child does not have to be or have been suicidal to create a plan.
The best way to respond to a crisis is to plan for it ahead of time.
Emergency action plans aren't just for children who are suicidal. You can use them with children who suffer from depression or anxiety. Teachers can use them with "at-risk" students or students with high-risk behaviors. The idea is to create a plan before you need to use it.
Your plan can be as simple as answering the questions in the second paragraph of this post. Or you could use a template. There are some good ones available on the Internet.
Mental Health America has a post with a free downloadable plan here. Their plan has you work through creating it with your child. NAMI has a downloadable .pdf about navigating a mental health crisis, all the steps to take, and things you should know. It includes what you should communicate when you call 911 and what to do while you wait. It's a little long, but it's thorough and worth your time to read through. Finally, there is a simple "fill-in-the-blanks" plan on this page. It is suitable for kids to adults and is printer-friendly. It could hang in a visible place as a reminder of how to care for yourself before you hit rock bottom.
In an emergency, every minute counts.
When someone you love is in crisis, so are you. Remembering the most basic information can be difficult, let alone phone numbers that you rarely need to call. Put these numbers in your emergency action plan and save them on your phone.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255. En Espanol: 1-888-628-9454. For TYY Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711, then 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal or emotional distress 24/7.
Crisis Text Line: Text MHA to 741741. Crisis Text Line provides free, text-based support 24/7.
The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678. A national 24/7, toll-free, confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.
Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860 for the US and 877-330-6366 for Canada. Tran's Lifeline's Hotline is a peer support service run by trans people for trans and questioning callers.
Other numbers you might need:
211 is a service run by the United Way that puts callers in contact with essential services, including medical care, housing, bills, child care, etc. In a crisis, they can put you in touch with the nearest providers to help with addiction, psychiatric, and other needs. They can also help if your child is out of control, exhibiting aggressive behaviors, or is suicidal (911 would also be appropriate, but 211 can help).
National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: For any victims and survivors who need support, call 1-800-799-7233, or if you are unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
Caregiver Helpdesk: Contact the Caregiver Action Network's Care Support Team by dialing 855-227-3640. The Help Desk helps you find the right information you need to help you navigate your complex caregiving challenges. Caregiving experts are available 8:00 am-7:00 pm ET.
Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (call or text). The national Disaster Distress Helpline is available for anyone experiencing emotional distress due to natural or human-caused disasters. Available 24/7.
Remember to share your emergency action plan with others.
While the plan's primary goal is to give you peace of mind and help you regain some resemblance of control, it's helpful to share it with others. Anyone with regular contact with your child should have a copy of the plan. This could be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, a trusted friend or neighbor, or your child's guidance counselor. If your child is over eighteen, it is important to evaluate the people they trust and include them in creating the plan. Then, they should have a copy of the final product.
Navigating a mental health or other crisis is scary. Having a plan so you know how to respond can make it less scary.
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