We previously wrote two blogs on 10 Ways To Support a Friend While They're Depressed and 8 Signs your Friend is Depressed which gives some ideas of ways to support someone when they’re having a hard time. But sometimes helping a friend through a mental health crisis is scary, especially when you start to worry about their safety.
It’s hard to know what to do in this situation, especially when you’re not a mental health professional. But even without training, there are a lot of ways you can be there for the people you care about.
Here are some tips From A St. Louis Therapist For Supporting Someone During A Mental Health Crisis :
Ask Directly About Suicide
If you think your friend might be considering suicide, ask them. It’s a scary conversation to have, and it isn’t going to feel good. But it’s important that you talk to them about it. Be direct, compassionate, and non-judgmental so they know it’s safe to talk to you.
People sometimes worry that bringing up suicide will put ideas in someone’s head. This isn’t true. The thoughts are already there, and usually it helps them to know that someone sees their pain and cares enough to ask. Ask the question and be ready to listen. Nami, the national alliance on Mental Illness, provides some tips on how to ask someone about suicide, how to handle the conversation, and what resources you should know about. Asking could save someone’s life.
Make sure their support system knows what’s going on
You want to be a safe person for your friend to talk to. But it’s best, for both of you, if other people are there to help. Let other safe people know what’s going on so they can be on watch too, and so you’re not handling the whole situation alone. Just make sure you’re telling the right people. If someone’s on bad terms with their family those might not be the best choice. Find other trusted people to call in as support.
Help them connect with crisis resources
Making sure your friend knows they aren’t alone and that they have options is an important step in keeping them safe. Get the information for local and national crisis resources, for example, the national suicide hotline, which can be reached at 1800-273-8255. Give them to your friend. Write them on paper next to the phone or add them to the top of their contacts list so the numbers are easy to find.
If you think your friend is afraid to call, or they don’t have the ability to do it, offer to help. You can sit with them for support while they call, or you can call for them if they’d prefer that. It’s important that they get connected with professional help. You are a great source of support, but it’s important they have access to someone with training.
Stay with them in an emergency situation
If your friend hurts themselves, tries to commit suicide, or if they’re in immediate danger, go with them to the ER or crisis center. Stay with them if you can. They are probably scared and will appreciate having support. You may be able to help them advocate for what they need and provide emergency workers with more information.
If you can’t stay, try to get someone else they know. Medical systems do their best to be compassionate, but things can get chaotic and confusing especially for someone in crisis.
Make a safety plan
A safety plan means you help your friend write down a list of crisis warning signs, and then a specific, detailed plan for what they should do if they start seeing those signs. This can include solo activities that comfort them if they’re just having a tough day, but will also include check-ins with you or other people in their support system. Make sure they put the crisis resources you gave them on the plan, and that they have clear instructions for when to use each strategy.
Often when people are having a crisis they have trouble thinking clearly. Having a safety plan set up with you and their other supports will make sure they have a clear path to follow to get the help they need, and it will let them feel like they have some control over their situation. Here is more detailed information about creating a safety plan.
Care for yourself
You are doing a great job helping your friend. But don’t underestimate the tole this situation can take on you. Keep your friend’s pain as your focus when you’re with them, but make sure you have supports of your own. You might feel scared or stressed, and both are normal responses. Make sure you have people you can talk to so you’re not carrying everything by yourself.
Remember to set boundaries. If your friend is relying on you to fix their situation and not accepting other help, know when it’s time to bring other people in. You are a safe person for them, but like we said above you’re not a professional and you shouldn’t be expected to manage everything alone. So just be conscious of your own limits and make sure you are taking the space to care for yourself.
Depression is hard for everyone involved. The best thing you can do for a friend going through it is just to be there for them, so they know they aren’t suffering alone. If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, remember the resources that are available and know that there are people who are here to help.
If you’re in the St. Louis area, you can reach out to our team of therapists at Marble Wellness. Our trained staff will be there to support you and your loved ones before, during, and after a crisis.
Mental Health Resources:
In an emergency, call 911 immediately.
National Suicide Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255); En español 1-888-628-9454
Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741. The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information.
You can also connect with more resources by reaching out to your local chapters of the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), or Mental Health America.
If you are in St. Louis, you can reach out to Behavioral Health Response. They provide crisis support, telephone counseling, and mental health resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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