For a long time, mental health problems were poorly understood and were not treated with the same seriousness as physical health issues. While there is still a long way to go, our culture has gradually begun to open up and start treating mental health with the care and attention it requires, and we now celebrate World Mental Health Day on October 10th as a time to raise awareness and reach out to those who need it most.

In England, one in every six people reports experiencing mental health issues in any given week. And a staggering one in fifteen people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives. So if you or someone you know or care for is in the middle of a mental health crisis or can feel one approaching, you must know exactly where to go for help and what you should do to prepare yourself and those around you.

So who should you call if you are experiencing mental health issues? Can you call 111, or are there alternatives? And what plans should you have in place to ensure you get the help you need?

Let's find out together as we explore all the options available for you to call for mental health support.

If you need urgent mental health support, you should call your local NHS urgent mental health helpline, the Samaritans, or other similar charitable organisations. If you cannot call one of these helplines, you can call 111 for guidance unless you are in a mental health emergency and do not feel safe, in which case you should call 999.

You should also try and reach out to those around you if you can. If you have family, friends, neighbours, or a partner who knows your needs, let them know how they can help and don't be nervous to ask for their support.

So let's jump in and find out more about NHS urgent mental health helplines.

What are NHS urgent mental health helplines?

NHS urgent mental health helplines are local centres that offer urgent advice for people of all ages. You can get over-the-phone support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from a mental health professional in your area.

The advisor will talk to you and offer emotional and mental support, assess your situation, and decide upon the next steps in your course of care.

You can also call an NHS urgent mental health helpline on behalf of your child, parent, or someone you care for.

You can find your local NHS urgent mental health helpline by entering your postcode into the NHS website.

Who else can you call for mental health support?

Other mental health services are available for you if you cannot contact an NHS helpline for any reason. Many of these services are charities and run by trained volunteers.

Here are just a few of the helplines you can call if you need support during a mental health crisis:

  • The Samaritans: 116 123
  • SANEline: 0300 304 7000
  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK: 0800 689 5652
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM): 0800 58 58 58
  • The Mix (for under 25s): 0808 808 4994
  • Papyrus HOPELINEUK (for under 35s): 0800 068 4141
  • Switchboard (for LGBT people): 0300 330 0630
  • Childline (for under 19s): 0800 1111
  • If you don't want to talk on the phone, text "SHOUT" to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line. Or text "YM" if you are under 19.

Calls to these numbers are free. Some lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Others have opening times, which you can find on their respective websites.

Although you are recommended to call an NHS urgent mental health helpline in the event of a mental health crisis, you can still call NHS 111 for non-emergency mental health support and guidance on who to turn to.

You should call 111 or book an emergency GP appointment if:

  • you cannot speak to your local NHS urgent mental health helpline for any reason
  • you need urgent help for your mental health situation, but you are not in an emergency
  • you don't know what to do or how to find support.

The 111 call operator will advise you on the best place to seek help for your current situation. They may also be able to transfer you to mental health nurse over the phone.

A GP can recommend and prescribe treatments such as anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication and refer you to specialists who offer therapeutic measures such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

If you or someone else is experiencing a mental health crisis and there is an emergency, you either call 999 or go straight to A&E.

An emergency can be when:

  • either your or somebody else's life is at risk. This may include a suicide attempt or serious self-harm.
  • either you or somebody else is not safe due to a mental health crisis.

People often hesitate or are reluctant to call the emergency services in the event of a mental health crisis, but you shouldn't be. Your emergency will be considered as serious as a physical one.

If you go to A&E due to mental health issues, the doctors and nurses will address your immediate physical or mental health needs. This may involve giving you medication, treating any injuries you have sustained, or making sure you have someone you feel safe with who can accompany you home.

They should also refer you to a liaison psychiatry service or local crisis resolution and home treatment team (CRHT). The psychiatry service is normally situated within a hospital or other medical centre. CRHT performs home visits and offers mental health support outside of hospitals.

When the doctors and nurses assess you at A&E, they will decide the best course of care for you going forward.

If you are in the middle of a mental health crisis or feel one approaching, reach out wherever you can for support. If you have close friends, family, or a partner, talk to them about how you are feeling and let them know if there is anything - no matter how small - they can do that will help. Call any of the helplines above if you cannot reach out to people close to you or don't want to.

If you are finding it hard to concentrate and don't know how you will get through the next few hours, then Mind recommends you make short-term plans that you can manage. For example, you can say to yourself, 'for the next five minutes, I am going to...':

  • do some breathing exercises
  • meditate
  • listen to this song I like
  • make a hot drink
  • go for a walk

It is easier for an overactive mind to focus on small tasks, and it can become overwhelming to think of things beyond that. So focus on making it through little steps, and the bigger steps will feel less intimidating.

If you have negative or suicidal thoughts and don't currently feel able to talk about them, Mind recommends that you write everything down and then throw the paper or the document away. Getting things out is always a good idea, so if you can't talk, write.

If you or someone you support regularly struggle with mental health or suicidal thoughts, it is a good idea to have a mental health crisis plan.

A mental health crisis plan can be whatever works for you. It should be a step-by-step outline of what you and those around you should do if you experience a crisis.

You might want to talk to your friends, family, partner, or doctor about your plan and even write it down for them. You can tell them what treatment you'd prefer, what signs they should look out for, who else they should contact, and anything else you think might help.

You can also arrange for someone close to you to be your advocate if you become unable to make decisions for yourself. This is known as 'losing capacity.'

If you think you risk losing capacity, you might also want to make an advanced statement. This is a legal document that outlines the following:

  • the kind of treatment you want
  • your next of kin
  • practical arrangements, such as childcare
  • your spiritual or religious views that should be respected during your treatment
  • your food preferences.

Your GP, psychiatrist or other healthcare professional should be able to help you prepare an advanced statement.

Crisis cards are small cards you can carry with you that have key bits of information regarding your mental health and needs should you experience a crisis in public or around people who won't know how to help you.

It can often be hard to know exactly what you are experiencing in a mental health crisis, especially if you haven't been through one before. These are just some of the signs that you should look out for in yourself and those around you that could indicate mental health issues.

  • Insomnia or sleep changes.
  • Appetite change.
  • Mood swings.
  • Withdrawal from social activities or other activities you previously enjoyed.
  • Drop in functioning at work, school, or other familiar routines.
  • Difficulty thinking and focusing.
  • Feelings of disconnection and disengagement.
  • Irrational thinking.
  • Nervousness.
  • Unusual behaviour.

Several services are available to call if you or someone you care for is experiencing a mental health crisis. Your first port of call should be an NHS urgent mental health helpline, as these are local services that connect you to support networks in your area. You should call 111 if you don't know where else to turn, and they should either be able to help or suggest someone who can.

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, don't be afraid to reach out for support. Professional and emotional help is available, and your mental health should always be taken seriously.