Helping a friend, family member, or even a stranger in need can be one of the most gratifying and confusing things to do.
Today, as a survivor of a mental health crises and mental health problems, I’m talking about the top five ways to help someone who is having a mental health crisis.
But first, what is a mental health crisis? Mentalhealthcrisis.org defines it as when a person “is in a state of mind in which they are unable to cope with and adjust to the recurrent stresses of everyday living in a functional, safe way.” Some signs of this are irritability, social withdrawal, anxiety, fatigue, extreme mood swings, abnormal sleeping/eating habits, the list goes on. But keep in mind that not everyone who goes through a mental crisis exhibits all of the traditional symptoms. They may experience only a few or all of the symptoms or fall somewhere in the middle.
So with that, here’s what you can do to help.
- UNDERSTAND THAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.Even if you have been in a mental health crisis everyone goes through a different kind of crisis. Mental health crises are like well made suits, they are tailored to the individual, they are not one size fits all. Most of us know what it’s like for someone to say they totally get your problem while you sit there screaming inside your head “NO YOU DON’T!!!!!!” So be empathetic, be sympathetic, listen and really hear your loved one but realize that there’s no way you can truly know what’s going on inside their mind because you are not in their head. Simply put, be the person they can talk to and the shoulder they can cry on, not the person who tells them what to do.
- KEEP CONTACT AT ALL TIMES. If you feel that someone is a threat to themselves (such as having violent and/or suicidal thoughts and actions) or others always have a way to be reached in case they need to talk to you. Also, check in on them regularly whether it be in person or just sending them a text saying “Hey, just writing to say hi.”
- CREATE A NETWORK OF HELPFUL PEOPLE. This ties in with the point above. Don’t be the only person with the responsibility of taking care of a loved one. You’ll overwhelm yourself very quickly and it’s hard to help others when you are not at your best. It’s like on airplanes when they say to put your own oxygen mask before helping others. Get a group of friends and/or family members that the loved one you’re helping trusts. Give them multiple people to contact and let them know that they are surrounded by people who care.
- NEVER HESITATE TO GET PROFESSIONAL HELP. Even if it is against the wishes of the one you are helping call 911 if you think they are in danger. They may be angry and threaten to not be friends anymore, but if the situation is no longer something you can handle then you’re number one job is to ensure the safety of your loved one and get them the help they need even if they don’t want it.
- IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT! As someone who has helped others through mental crises (not to mention having my own mental crises) you do not have a magic wand that you can wave to fix everything. What you do have is your support, love, compassion and understanding but sometimes these don’t feel like they are enough. It can feel hopeless at times but KEEP GOING! Mental health crises can’t be cured overnight so don’t beat yourself up for not getting instant results.
If you have any more questions on helping those in a mental health crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and they can refer you to help in your area. And, you can find more resources here: https://bornthisway.foundation/get-help-now/