Crisis Plans or “Mad Maps”: Creating Your Own Path Through Mental Health Crisis


In 2015, 18% of UNC students surveyed reported that anxiety had interfered with their school performance in the past year and 13% said depression had affected school in the same period. People with depression and anxiety are at an increased risk for experiencing mental health crisis, which is “any situation in which a person is not able to resolve the situation with the skills and resources available” (source). Crisis can feel like being so overwhelmed that it seems impossible to accomplish daily tasks, being suicidal, or being out-of-touch with reality, in the case of psychosis. Because UNC students experience depression and anxiety, we need to take care of our own and our friends’ mental health so that we all stay healthy, safe, and out of crisis. This post will help you learn about crisis-planning, which is one tool you can use to keep you and your community safe.

What is a Crisis Plan?

A crisis plan is a plan you create that guides you and the people around you to prevent mental health crisis, and respond to crisis effectively if it happens. Think of a crisis plan as a letter from your calm, reflective self to your future, struggling self, and the people who will support you then. Crisis plans are often documents that include information about what triggers you to feel emotional distress, what helps you feel better, and who to reach out to for support.  Your crisis plan uses your wisdom and knowledge of your own needs to guide your future self through hard times and back to stability.

How do I Make a Crisis Plan?

6908898402_631b538a6c_o
“Subway Style Mind Map,” by Sharon Brogan. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Your crisis plan can be as simple or complex as you like, and it can include any information you think would be relevant to your future self and your support people–everything from when your friends should feed your cats to what metal songs you like to cry to.

This is one great crisis plan template you can use.

The Icarus Project, the radical mental health collective, refers to its crisis planning tool, available here, as Mad Maps. The Icarus Project’s mission is to “advance social justice by fostering mutual aid practices that reconnect healing and collective liberation,” so its Mad Maps guide includes questions like “what does oppression feel like to you?”

Crisis plans can also be in the form of:

  • A psychiatric advanced directive, a legal document you can complete that will inform healthcare professionals how to best support you in the event that you are hospitalized for mental health reasons. Advance directives are intended for healthcare providers to read, so they include information like what medications you should and shouldn’t be given, and which of your support people doctors should communicate with about your care.
  • self-care boxes with actual stuff in them that helps you feel better
  • lists of activities you can do to perk up
  • this website , which is an interactive guide to navigating hard times . Bookmark it for exam week!
  • Safety Plan, a crisis plan app (available for free on Android and Iphone) that keeps your personalized crisis plan in your back pocket.

Why Make A Crisis Plan?

Here are some reasons folks create their own crisis plans, if you’re still not convinced.

  • Crisis planning keeps you in control of what happens to you. Crisis can be a time that other folks step in and take control to make sure you’re safe. By documenting your wishes for when you’re in crisis, you can stay both empowered AND safe during hard times.
  • Crisis planning helps you learn more about yourself. The questions you need to ask yourself in the process of developing a crisis plan prompt you to develop a richer understanding of yourself, your mind, and your unique strengths.
  • Crisis planning is tool to communicate with your  support people. Emailing your crisis plan to your friends and family can start (or continue) a conversation about mental illness–a difficult topic–on your own terms. Crisis planning also demonstrates to those around you that you are taking care of yourself, and so it could help your mom worry less about you. (But no promises on that one!)
  • Crisis planning builds more self-reliant communities. Communities with disproportionately high rates of mental health crisis, like LGBTQ  folks, also have too many negative experiences with mental health professionals and histories of oppression in mental health fields. Crisis plans encourage conversation and collaboration about mental health support within marginalized communities, so that when folks from these communities reach out to professionals, they are also grounded in networks of  friends who understand their struggles and can advocate for them.
  • Finally, a crisis plan prepares you for scary times, and that makes them less scary! Knowing that you are ready for the worst times reminds you of your inner strength. A crisis plan serves as a reminder that you always have a path out of even the darkest spots.

If you’d like help planning for–or navigating–crisis, contact the Counseling Center.  If you’re having trouble keeping up with school work because of mental health issues, contact the office of the Dean of Students for support.  If you are  experiencing mental health crisis after-hours, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Textline at 741741.

Anole Halper is a graduate intern with Student Wellness. They are getting a dual Masters in social work and public health. Their research interests include sexual violence prevention and LGBTQ health equity issues.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s