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Cook County Connections: Mental Health Crisis and Response

Dec 13, 2019 08:41AM ● By Editor

By Cook County PHHS Children & Family Services Supervisor Grace Bushard, Cook County MN - December 13, 2019

The stress of less sunlight and holiday pressures of traveling, spending more money and connecting with family and friends is something that many of us can relate to at this time of the year.   This extra pressure can weigh on us emotionally.  Add in less sleep, more alcohol and more sugar, and it is easy to see how a person could easily feel more than overwhelmed: they could feel that they are having a mental health crisis. How do you know if you or someone you care about is experiencing one and the big question – what should a person do when experiencing a mental health crisis? 

What is a mental health crisis?  

A mental health crisis is a set of circumstances that leads to a person feeling as if they just can’t function the way they usually do. The circumstances that lead to a crisis are different for everyone.  It can be circumstantial stress (such as the holidays or an anniversary of a stressful event) coupled with bigger events, including a significant loss through death, divorce, job loss or the onset of a health condition.  The stressors are all individual, yet the signs and symptoms of a person experiencing a mental health crisis have a similar pattern.  

Some signs of a mental health crisis include: 

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Isolating from friends and loved ones
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs 
  • Thoughts of suicide or that the world would be better off without you

It may be hard to understand the thoughts and feelings of a person having mental health crisis, and it is important to remember that all behavior is a person’s best attempt to cope with a situation that is overwhelming to them.  It is important to be compassionate and understanding with a person in crisis, including if that person is you! 

Navigating a mental health crisis:

How can a person best help someone whom they think is having a mental health crisis? Talking things through is a great first step to helping the person feel seen and heard.  Humans are hard wired to connect with others, especially in difficult situations, and it may be difficult for your friend or loved one who is experiencing a crisis to seek help.  Therefore, offering a compassionate, non-judgmental listening ear is a great first step to help the individual.  If you personally can’t connect with a person, help them reach out and connect with someone they trust – their own therapist, doctor, minister or priest, or trusted support person.  

In some situations, listening and support may not be enough; the person who is having the crisis may need immediate help.  This is especially true if a person is having suicidal thoughts. 

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, reaching out to a crisis line is extremely valuable.  In Cook County, Birch Tree Center has a crisis line available 24/7 at (218) 623-1800.  The people whom you talk to are kind, supportive and experienced in helping individuals in crisis.  The crisis responders are located in Duluth and are highly connected with resources and support in Cook County.  Calls made to Birch Tree Center after hours or on weekends can be responded to face-to-face by a local responder.  The responder will talk directly to the person who is having the crisis and make arrangements to connect that person to the necessary resources. 

During regular business hours, you can also call Cook County Public Health and Human Services and ask to speak to an intake worker.  You will again receive kind and compassionate support to walk you through the best next best steps.  If you call a doctor or mental health professional, let them know what is going on and that you need help.  They will respond.

If someone you know is stating they want to kill themselves and has a specific plan, it is important to immediately call 911 and ask for support and intervention.  Suicide may seem like the only solution when a person is at their lowest moment, yet helping the person stay alive and find hope is vital.  

The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) has specific information on their website for helping someone in mental health crisis, including warning signs, how to respond, and how to prepare. (Search Navigating a Mental Health Crisis.) If you notice warning signs or you’re concerned about someone, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it 

Any of us can have a mental health crisis, and knowing the resources to provide support to our friends and loved ones can strengthen our relationships with our family and community. All of us can be part of the network of support for those we know and love! 

Listed below are resources that can help plan and respond to mental health emergencies:   

  • 24/7 Crisis Response - Birch Tree Center – (218) 623-1800
  • MN Crisis Text Line – Text MN to 741 741
  • Cook County Public Health and Human Services – (218) 387-3620
  • Grand Portage Human Services – (218) 475-2453
  • Sawtooth Mountain Clinic – (218) 387-2330

Learn more about crisis response services in Cook County at the December 17 PHHS Board Meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the Cook County Commissioners Room. Follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS to learn more about resources for older adults and people with disabilities in Cook County. 


County Connections is a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County – Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service