Mental health crisis: Responding to Someone in Need

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Sadly, people in our communities sometimes experience a mental health crisis or even end their own lives. How do you recognise when someone is struggling, and what can you do to help? People often avoid bringing up concerns to their friends, fearing they might make things worse. Unsure what to do, they try to distract. But dressing up as RuPaul and doing interpretive dance outside their bedroom window probably won’t help.

Words: Paul Martin is the Senior Psychologist at the Centre for Human Potential.

The first step is to recognise when a friend is struggling. This can be a challenge. Many people put on a front, pretending that they are okay when they are not. They might feel shame or think it is a sign of weakness to admit to how they are really feeling. Not true. In fact, our brains are hard-wired to feel better when we talk about our struggles to someone we trust and feel safe with. It is actually a sign of strength to identify and talk about how you feel. But that does often mean going against beliefs instilled since we were very young.

How can you tell if someone is suffering if they don’t bring it up themselves? The main thing to look for is uncharacteristic behaviour. For example, a notorious party animal suddenly stops going out. Or a friend who normally lives on the phone suddenly stops calling. These can be signs something is up, and not in a good way.

You are not a counsellor

If you notice this, mention it. It is a caring gesture to talk about it. It’s not intrusive and you won’t make it worse by asking. Mention you’ve noticed their changed behaviour and ask how they are going. Remember that you are not a counsellor, just a friend who cares. They might not want to talk about it. So let them know that you are there for them if they ever want to reach out. If they do open up, resist trying to ‘make them feel better’ by telling them how great they are and that things will get better.

Whilst this is often accurate and great to mention when they are feeling okay again, they probably won’t believe you at this point. If they acknowledge they are struggling emotionally, you don’t need to provide answers. Just make sure they know that you will always listen. If they need professional assistance for their mental health crisis, ask what resources they can access or have accessed before. If they don’t want to do anything and choose to act in ways that hurt themselves, as painful as it is to watch, their choices are not your responsibility.

Suggest they see their GP. Their doctor can talk to them about a Mental Health Care Plan and refer them to a psychologist. It is ideal to see someone with experience working in our communities, such as the Centre for Human Potential.

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