Skip to main content

Boreal Community Media

Behavioral Health Crisis and Response During COVID-19

Apr 17, 2020 08:26AM ● By Editor

Photo courtesy of the American Institute of Stress

COUNTY CONNECTIONS:  By Cook County PHHS Children & Family Services Supervisor Grace Bushard from Cook County MN - April 17, 2020

Our world has been upended.

Although everyone is experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways, we are all being bombarded with constant reminders and guidance on how to protect our physical health.

This is all good and necessary; yet, taking in all this information, along with the immense changes that we are experiencing - from job loss to home schooling to other vast uncertainties - can be overwhelming.  It is natural and normal to feel stress at this time, but what happens when there is too much stress?  What happens when the skills we use to cope no longer work?   

Being overwhelmed by too much stress can have serious, negative outcomes and could result in a mental health crisis.   How do you know if you or someone you care about is experiencing a mental health crisis, and 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 lead 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 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

·       Abuse of alcohol or drugs

·       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 

·       Thoughts of suicide or that the world would be better off without you

While it may be difficult to understand the thoughts and feelings of a person undergoing a mental health crisis, it is important to remember that all behavior is a person’s best attempt to cope with a situation that is over whelming 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 and can help the person feel seen and heard.  Humans are hard-wired to connect with others, especially in challenging situations, and it may be difficult for your friend or loved one who is experiencing a crisis to seek help.  Offering a compassionate, non-judgmental listening ear is a great first step.  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, though, 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, there is a crisis line available 24/7.  The people whom you talk with are kind, supportive and experienced in helping people in crisis.  The crisis responders are located in Duluth at the Birch Tree Center 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 who can meet a person at the hospital.  The responder will talk directly to the person who is having the crisis and make arrangement to connect. 

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 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 and how to respond (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 you plan for 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

For the most up to date information on COVID-19 response in Cook County visit

Learn more about behavioral health response to COVID-19 in Cook County and the PHHS department at the April 21 PHHS Board Meeting. PHHS Board Meetings are available to livestream and view on the Cook County website at Follow us on Facebook @CookCountyPHHS to learn more about public health and human services resources 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