January 27, 2021

By Amy N. Cohen, Ph.D. and Teri Brister, Ph.D., LPC

Managing any mental health condition takes courage and effort. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan — treatment is different for each person and each diagnosis — and you have to determine what treatments, tools and supports work best for you.

While the journey is unique for each person, the one thing that any individual with mental illness can experience is a mental health crisis. A crisis is any situation when a person’s behaviors put them at risk of hurting themselves or others. A crisis is also when a person cannot resolve the situation with the skills and resources available to them.

With serious mental illness (SMI), crises can be difficult to predict and sometimes there are no warning signs. Additionally, crises can occur even when you follow your treatment plan and work with mental health professionals. These situations can be dire and it’s essential that the person in crisis receives the care and response they need.

What can help is for that person to have an established crisis plan, so even if they are unable to communicate, they are receiving care that is tailored to them and their needs. As you manage your own condition or support someone else, My Mental Health Crisis Plan is a new app that can help in creating a plan.

The Best Move Is to Plan Ahead
A crisis plan allows an individual to make their treatment preferences known. That way, if and when a crisis occurs, you have a voice in your care. A crisis plan provides your care team with details on what treatments and supports may help you the most.

A crisis plan also allows family members, clinicians and others in your social support network to be better advocates. It can list who should be contacted, who can make decisions on your behalf, who should care for your children, etc. In fact, many people say that the process to create a crisis plan is very helpful. It lets them think through what supports they need and clarify their preferences for treatment.

A New Tool That Helps
My Mental Health Crisis Plan is a smartphone app that guides you through the process and lets you share your crisis plan with clinicians, family members and friends.

My Mental Health Crisis Plan was created by SMI Adviser, an initiative that is administered by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). SMI Adviser provides free education, consultations and resources for clinicians who provide care to individuals with SMI. It also offers a free database of evidence-based resources for individuals and families. SMI Adviser worked closely with experts from NAMI to create and launch My Mental Health Crisis Plan.

How to Use My Mental Health Crisis Plan
The app is designed for ease of use. It has large buttons and is easy to read. There are short videos you can watch before you start that explain what a crisis plan is and what information you need to create one.

The app helps you create a crisis plan in separate sections. It's important to do this at a time when you are thinking clearly. This lets you think through choices like:

  • Who are the health care professionals you prefer to be contacted when you are in a crisis?
  • Who should make decisions on your behalf and how can they be contacted?
  • Which hospitals or facilities would you want to go to? Which ones would you want to avoid?
  • What types of treatments and medications do you want to receive?

Of course, all of these choices are optional. Your crisis plan can have as few or as many details as you prefer. Yet the more details you include, the more others can advocate for what may help you best.

If you choose, the app can help you turn your crisis plan into a psychiatric advance directive (PAD), a legal document that guides your care during a mental health crisis.

The app is also completely secure. Your crisis plan is stored on your mobile device and shared only with the people you choose. You can share via email, text or QR code.

Keep in mind that it’s okay if a crisis plan takes time and thought. You may know exactly what you prefer and get it done in 10 minutes. Or, you may want to think about these choices a bit more and discuss them with individuals who are important to you. Finish your crisis plan in an hour, a day, a week or take as long as you need.

The process will be personal, and you should do what works best for you. After all, this plan is all about your preferences in a situation when you need support, care and treatment the most.

To download My Mental Health Crisis Plan, simply open the Apple App Store or Google Play Store on your device. Search for My Mental Health Crisis Plan and tap the button to install the app.


Amy N. Cohen, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and Project Director of SMI Adviser. She is an implementation scientist with clinical and research expertise in serious mental illness.

Teri Brister, Ph.D., LPC, is National Director of Research & Quality Assurance with NAMI. She worked for 20+ years in community mental health prior to joining NAMI in 2005.

Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).