Identifying Warning Signs of Mental Health Crises, Depression During the Holiday Season

Margie Balfour, MD, PhD, chief of quality and clinical innovation, Connections Health Solutions, Tucson Arizona, shares the warning signs of mental health crises, including symptoms of depression, that clinicians and loved ones can lookout for this upcoming season.

Dr Balfour speaks with Meagan Thistle, assistant digital editor, Psych Congress Network, about the impact the new 3-digit number “988” will have on Americans experiencing a mental health crisis. Effective July 16, 2022, phone companies will be required to transition the current mental health emergency hotline (1-800-273-TALK) to be accessible via 988.

In an upcoming video with Dr Balfour, she shares more information about the importance of the 988 hotline, when it will be more widely available, and the impact that COVID-19 had on mental health.

Read the transcript:

Meagan Thistle:  Hi. Welcome to "Psych Congress Network Family." We are here today with Dr Margie Balfour. If you'd like to introduce yourself?

Dr Margie Balfour:  Hi. I am a psychiatrist in Tucson, Arizona. I am the chief of quality and clinical innovation at an organization called Connections Health Solutions, and we operate in mental health and substance use crisis centers across Arizona.

Thistle:   If we could discuss what's some of the warning signs that clinicians or even family members can look out for this upcoming holiday season for a mental health crisis or even depression?

This way, folks can see those signs, know again, now we're going to have this really exciting new resource for us all, hopefully soon. Again, if you could just share those warning signs with us.

Dr Balfour:  For families, especially, one of the most important things to look for is a change in behavior because families know their loved ones best. Seeing a definite change from how they usually are, is a big warning sign. For some people, that may mean that they are isolating more, that they're sleeping more, but other people may be sleeping less because they're anxious and they're on edge.

The main thing is that it's a change from their usual behavior. Oftentimes, people who are depressed will have a shorter temper. Get angry and upset and anxious a little more easily. The stresses of everyday life that would be something that they could cope with might be a little too much when they're starting to get depressed.

Of course, the most important thing to look out for is any warning signs around suicidal thoughts. Thoughts of life isn't worth living. Saying that things feel hopeless. People start posting on social media oftentimes, especially for our younger folks, people who were starting to send text in social media and things like that to their friends about suicidal thoughts.

Those are good indications that you need to reach out to that person and try to get them connected. Right now, we don't have the 988 number, although what they will connect to is an existing network of suicide hotlines called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

You can currently call that number now at 1‑800‑273‑TALK, T‑A‑L‑K, and many of the cell phone companies have already made 988 connect to that. Even though 988's not official, most of the cell phone companies, you can do that. If you can't remember the 273‑TALK, then you can try that.

Thistle:  As you said, COVID‑19, it's been tough on everyone, and knowing that we all have that resource to dial that number, so easy to do when we feel we need to. That's exciting to hear and to expect.

Thank you so much for joining us. We will definitely be including links to some of the resources so everyone can check that out, as well as the number that you mentioned in addition to the 988. Again, thank you so much for being with us, and hope to talk with you again soon.

Dr Balfour:  Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Margie Balfour, MD, PhD, is a psychiatrist and national leader in quality improvement and behavioral health crisis care. She is chief of quality and clinical innovation at Connections Health Solutions, Tuscon, Arizona. She is also an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona. Dr Balfour was named Doctor of the Year by the National Council for Behavioral Health for her work at the Crisis Response Center in Tucson and received the Tucson Police Department’s medal of honor for helping law enforcement better serve people with mental illness. She contributes to expert panels for SAMHSA and the DOJ. Her pioneering work on crisis metrics has been adopted as a national standard, and she co-authored Roadmap to the Ideal Crisis System: Essential Elements, Measurable Standards, and Best Practices. Dr. Balfour is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and serves on the Quality-of-Care Council. A native of Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Balfour earned a BA in Biology at Johns Hopkins University followed by her MD and PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Cincinnati. She completed residency and fellowship in Community Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.