Tuesday, July 12, 2022

How to support a loved one in crisis.

I speak and write a lot about how to manage oneself but I recognise that for many, there exists a lot of worry and concern about how best to support someone else going through mental health difficulties. It can be daunting to know what to say, especially when you know that what they’re going through is nobody's fault but just an extremely unfortunate condition. 

  • Sometimes, it may be difficult to know whether a loved one wants your advice or just for you to listen. We often feel compelled to try and help a loved one fix their problems and so when they talk about it we offer solutions. However, there are times when this advice is unsolicited and in fact, what the person is looking for is not a quick fix for their problems (they’ve probably thought about every option themselves).The best thing to do here is simply ask "do you want my advice, or just for me to listen?"

  • Encourage them to consider the worst case scenario - anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions can create a cycle of overthinking known as rumination and a tendency to catasrophise. This is partially because the brain thinks it will be better prepared for something if it has already gone through the steps, however this is not actually the case. Half of the anxiety we experience comes from the worry of ‘what if..’ whilst chances are the most likely thing to happen is not that dramatic. Asking “what is the worst case scenario?” can bring the individual back into their logical mind (prefrontal) rather than the emotional one causing anxiety and bring them back to a sense of safety/ reality. 

Worst case scenario - you lose your job? You get a new one.

You lose that friend? You will make new friends

Your relationship ends? Perhaps it wasn’t meant to be.

Sometimes, when you're experiencing multiple stressors and negative thought patterns, it feels as though your world is crumbling around you and your life is over, when in fact it is not.  

  • If the individual struggles to talk about their mental health and so you find it intrusive to ask but want to check on them, as if you can agree on one check in per day with a simple rating of 1-10. I.e. one per day you ask, ‘where are you today on the scale’ with 1 being extremely low and 10 being content/ happy. This will give you a simple indication of how much support you may need to give on that day. This can also put your mind at ease if you know they are coping well that day, you don’t need to worry.  

  • A simple 'i'm here for you' or a funny meme can go a long way for someone who is feeling at rock bottom. Laughter is medicine after all.

It is ok to ask the question. 

If you are concerned that someone is considering suicide, it is important to know that it is ok to ask the question. You will likely receive a simple “yes” or “no” and asking someone whether they are wanting to hurt/ kill themselves will not put the idea in their head. All that asking the question does is affirm to the individual that there is someone that cares (chances are their brain is telling them that no one does) and provide an added measure of safety (if the answer is yes, you can put in contingencies). 

Things not to say 

  • Avoid the question “Why?” - often when one is actively struggling with their mental health, their priority is survival from day to day. The question why is thus extremely daunting and a difficult one to answer for a relatively stable person, never mind one that is struggling. 

  • You’re upsetting me/ your *insert family member here*

Though it is likely it is upsetting to see someone going through mental health difficulties which may come with risky behaviors, self harm or substance misuse, this statement here created a deeper sense of shame and dislike towards oneself, rather than helping them to overcome what they’re going through for the betterment of someone else.    

  • “There are people going through worse”

This translates to what you're going through doesn't matter. Though it may very well be true that other people are going through worse, it invalidates the feelings of the individual, likely causing them to feel more guilt and shame whilst discouraging them from reaching out for help. Furthermore, being in crisis usually means that the logic and reasoning part of the brain is not functioning to its usual capability. What takes precedence is the emotional pain that the individual is experiencing, and a need to end this pain. 

Hope this is helpful. 

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