Emotional pain is a part of being human -if we live long enough we will all go through some heartbreak and sadness.
Because we understand the experience of pain we can find it very difficult to stand by when someone else is suffering. We wish for a magic wand that could take their pain away instantly.
This is especially true when the person we care about is experiencing a mental health crisis.
While there may not be a magic wand in your pocket, here are some concrete things you can do to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
Listen without judgment
Something has happened that made you worry about your friend, co-worker, or family member.
They may seem especially sad, or maybe they have increased their use drugs and alcohol. They could have hinted at wanting to end things or may have sent you a concerning text message.
What you don’t want to do is push them away by making any statements that sound judgemental. It may be hard to understand their behavior, but you won’t be able to help them if you’re too busy telling them what they should or shouldn’t do.
The first step in trying to help is to really listen. Express your concern for their well-being and ask them some open questions like:
- You’ve seemed a bit down -how are you feeling?
- Can you tell me about what’s going on?
- What did you mean when you said ___?
Sometimes just having a supportive listener is enough to help someone in a state of agitation or anxiety to calm down.
By talking with the person you may also be able to gather more information which can help if they need further treatment or support. Try to notice if their thoughts are logical or disorganized. Are they hallucinating? Have they been using any substance? If they take medication have they recently changed or stopped a dose?
Ask the tough questions
If you’re worried that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis one of the most important things you can to do to help them is to assess their level of risk.
How do you do that?
It’s simple, but not easy: you ask them.
Are you thinking of ending your life? Are you thinking of hurting yourself, or someone else?
You’d be surprised how often asking straight out will get you an honest answer. When we have the courage to ask, the person experiencing a crisis knows we understand how bad they may be feeling right now. We give them permission to talk about the darkest things they are feeling.
And we need to know, because if they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others they will need emergency help, often from a hospital or health crisis hotline.
Your role in a mental health crisis
Just because you asked the question doesn’t mean you have to provide all the answers.
Most of us are not mental health professionals. Even if we were, we cannot be the one to treat or cure our loved one. But we can get them to the help they need.
If the person is suicidal and about to act you must call for emergency help through 911. If they are thinking about it but haven’t made a plan you can offer to support them as they reach out to a suicide hotline or find online support.
If your loved one is in crisis related to addiction support them by finding appropriate referrals.
If the person you care about has previously struggled with mental health and addiction issues, don’t wait for a mental health crisis to happen to make a plan.
Talk together to strategize how you can support them through times of crisis. A plan could include you having a list of professionals who know the person and can make time on short notice, or a list of rehab centers you can contact together.