How to Help a Loved One Through a Crisis

How to Help a Loved One Through a Crisis

An emotional crisis can come in many forms, such as excessive drinking or drug use, depression, trauma, self-harm, panic attacks, or suicidal thoughts. No one likes to see a loved one suffer but if someone you care about is going through an emotional crisis, you may not know what you can do to help. The following are tips for helping a loved one through an emotional crisis. 

Look for warning signs.

Sometimes warning signs of an emotional crisis are impossible to miss. These might include a suicide attempt, an arrest, an uncharacteristic outburst, an emotional breakdown, or an actual cry for help. However, often the signs of an emotional crisis are subtler. People often don’t like to admit when they’re struggling and need help. Less obvious signs of an emotional crisis might include deteriorating hygiene, changes in weight or eating habits, changes in sleep habits, declining performance at work or school, social withdrawal, or uncharacteristic mood changes such as irritability, anxiety, anger, or sadness. People often won’t ask for help so you may have to make the first move. It’s also better to intervene sooner rather than later. Mental health issues are always easier to manage at the beginning and the longer they persist, the greater the potential damage. 

Be present.

If you think someone you care about is having an emotional crisis, be there in person if possible. There are a number of reasons for this. First, your loved one is less likely to do something impulsive or dangerous if you’re there. Second, being there in person facilitates communication and even if she is unwilling or unable to communicate right away, being there shows you care. 

Pay attention to physical needs. 

Even though your loved one is going through an emotional crisis, don’t neglect her physical needs. Make sure she’s comfortable, warm, and safe. Make sure she’s had something to eat and drink. These simple things can help relieve anxiety, agitation, and irritability. They are also the first principles of emotional first aid. People responding to traumatic events are trained to see to a person’s safety and comfort immediately after making contact. If you think your loved one is a danger to herself or others, remove dangerous items from the immediate area, including substances. If she’s injured, take care of that right away. 

Listen and empathize.

Ask what’s wrong and listen without judgment. Give her space to talk. When you feel overwhelmed by emotion it’s often hard to articulate what you’re feeling and keep yourself together long enough to express it. There’s no rush. Ask questions to better understand. Don’t judge feelings as good or bad and don’t offer advice. Pay attention to your body language. Try to remain open and present. People tend to shut down if they feel judged or if they feel like you don’t really care. They also tend to get angry if they feel patronized or pitied. To avoid condescension, keep in mind that life is unpredictable and you could very well find yourself in the same position at some point. No one is immune to misfortune. 

If someone has just experienced a trauma, it may not be helpful to ask for details. Instead, a better approach may be to try to figure out what kind of practical help you can offer. 

Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one if she’s having suicidal thoughts. You won’t put the idea in her head and although it may feel awkward to ask, it’s better to err on the side of caution than to find out later that you really should have asked. If she is having suicidal thoughts, don’t leave her alone.

Reach out for help.

If you think your loved one might be a danger to herself or others, stay with her and try to keep her calm. At this point, it’s typically a good idea to reach out for help. If your loved one has a therapist already, this would be a good time to call that person. Therapists are typically available during emergencies. If there’s no therapist you can call, there’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. A skilled counselor will help guide you and your loved one through whatever is going on. If you fear your loved one is an immediate danger to herself or others, call 911. 

If your loved one has been suffering from a mental health issue, substance use issues, or an eating disorder, a crisis is typically the time when they are most willing to accept help. Use this opportunity to encourage her to get treatment. Make it clear that you’re worried, you care about her, and you want what’s best for her.

Provide support.

In addition to emotional support, be prepared to offer practical support. People dealing with depression, substance use issues, and other mental health issues may have a hard time dealing with the practical aspects of treatment. Be willing to help your loved one find a therapist or treatment program, make an appointment, get to appointments, and deal with other practical arrangements. Don’t underestimate how difficult even simple things can be when someone is dealing with an emotional crisis. There are many ways you can help that would be easy for you and hard for her.

Help your loved one stay connected.

During and after the crisis, it’s important to help your loved one feel socially connected. Social connection is crucial for mental health. It reduces stress, gives you more resources to deal with challenges, and helps you feel a greater sense of meaning. Reach out regularly, even if it’s only a text, and invite her to do things even if she doesn’t always accept. Keep in mind that it might take a while for your loved one to start feeling better and don’t take it personally if she sometimes cancels plans or doesn’t want to do anything. 

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants