What Is a Crisis? Defining How a Crisis Happens and How Crisis Lines Help

Posted July 12th, 2022

By: Lina Moskaleva

Have you ever been through a devastating breakup, received a warning letter at work, or had a family member die? Have you had a debilitating flare-up of a chronic pain condition, a dark spiral of negative self-talk, or a realization that you will soon need to retire? Have you had to wait for an evacuation order as a forest fire was spreading closer to your community? Experienced a hostile interaction? Failed a class in school?

People in these — or any other difficult and overwhelming situations — can find the support they need by calling a crisis line.

The term “crisis” gets used frequently, but is rarely defined. So what is a personal crisis? 

Crisis happens when the level of pain and distress a person is experiencing outweighs the effectiveness of their resources and coping strategies. This can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. 

A crisis can be sparked by any of life’s many stressors, regardless of whether they are ongoing or singular, internal or external. The stressors we encounter can cause us to feel confused, afraid, or guilty and can lead to an experience of crisis if our normal solutions and supports fail to help us cope with the situation.

Crisis is both a state of mind and a state of being so we feel its effects in a myriad of ways. We may go into fight-or-flight mode or freeze and be unable to move or think. We may feel hopeless, disoriented, agitated, distraught, numb, or angry, sometimes switching between feelings at the drop of a hat. Our perceptions can become altered and our memories distorted. It can be difficult to think straight and may feel as though our world has been turned upside down. Our actions and words may confuse or frustrate those around us.

Experiencing a crisis doesn’t necessarily mean you are also experiencing a mental illness. Anyone can be in crisis, including people who have psychiatric illnesses, those with mental health issues, and those who are generally healthy but find themselves in a difficult situation. 

A personal crisis can be a major turning point in someone’s life. Crucially — if the person doesn’t receive proper support — these acute events can trigger a cascade of compounding negative circumstances. Crisis begets crisis and situations can spiral out of control, putting the person further into precarity and making it that much harder to find a resolution.

During this time, what we need is for someone to recognize that we are in crisis, listen to us, and guide us back to feeling stable.

Just one phone call with a responder from one of the BC crisis lines can turn things around for someone in crisis. The crisis responder can help the caller get clarity about their situation, map out their resources, and — when they’re ready — make a plan for the next steps, all while offering warm and compassionate support. The crisis line responders can even provide follow-up phone calls; the work of crisis lines is not only emergency response, but also prevention of crisis escalation.

Crisis lines are available across British Columbia 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If you or someone you know needs help, please call:

  • 1-800-SUICIDE
  • 310-6789 (mental health crisis line)

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Our Impact The topic and word "suicide" is not so scary after taking a training from the Crisis Centre of BC. I'm grateful to have been here today, and am hopeful that I can help people in the future. safeTALK participant, Agassiz