It is hard to know how to help friends when they hit rock bottom.
People in the midst of a crisis often feel that everything they worked so hard for is disappearing before their eyes. These emotions can be so overwhelming and intense that they make it hard to move forward. Many kinds of events can cause an emotional crisis, such as a job loss, foreclosure, divorce or a betrayal.
If a friend, or relative, is going through a crisis, it can be a challenge to know what to say without doing harm.
Individuals in the midst of a crisis may have any of the following:
- Overwhelming anger
- Withdrawal and/or isolation
- Feelings of fear, hopelessness and severe anxiety
- Individuals in crisis may abuse alcohol, self-medicate with prescription drugs, or engage in self-destructive behaviors (e.g., speeding, sexual promiscuity)
Other signs also include:
- Feelings of low self-worth
- Panic attacks and/or severe anxiety
- Lack of interest in regular activities
- Suicidal ideations
- Feeling tired all the time
- Changes in sleep and appetite
What you should NOT DO to someone in an emotional crisis:
- Give too much advice
- Make decisions for her or him
- Become emotionally involved in your friend’s crisis
- Turn a blind eye to dangerous behaviors, such as excessive drinking or drug abuse
- Hide information from therapists or professionals who are trying to help
- Comment on what could’ve been done or what she should’ve tried. Maybe later you can try to go over this, but now is not the moment
- Ask too many questions. Your friend might be confused so steer away from criticism
What you CAN DO to help:
- Just be there. Think about a time when things didn’t go your way, and just know, that although you might not be sure what your friend is going through, you are there for her.
- Be calm and non-judgemental. Even if you don’t know what to say, staying calm can help your friend’s crisis from worsening.
- Watch for safety concerns. If you are afraid for your friend’s immediate wellbeing, or you think he or she is at risk for suicidal ideations or self-harm, then it is ok to take action.
- Listen unconditionally. Make it a priority to listen without judgment. You might not agree with their recent decisions or some of the things they tell you, but don’t let this affect you. Just listen.
- Be empathetic. Every now and then let your friend know that you have an understanding of what she is going through. A simple statement such as, “This must be really hard for you” will help her know that you not only care but she is being heard. Do not worry about how it sounds. Just be genuine.
- Share your story. It can be relieving for a friend in crisis to know that others have overcome similar hardships.
- Take care of your own mental health and take breaks in between. Keep in mind that this is not your crisis. Helping too much can make you feel exhausted. Taking a few minutes for yourself to listen to your favorite song or a short walk can help you regroup.
- Bring water. People who are going through an emotional crisis can become quickly dehydrated.
- Bring food. Even if they say they are not hungry, the gesture alone can mean a lot for your friend. This is a great way to show support and that you genuinely care about her or him.
- Be creative. Send her something that represents you. It can be a song or a poem, some chocolates, or even a book that you find helpful. This is a way of reminding your friend that she is loved and appreciated.
Some things to remember….
Be patient. Helping a friend in crisis is not easy. They may not respond immediately to the support you offer them. They might reject your help. Don’t let this catch you off guard. This is normal. Just take a deep breath and let her know that you are trying to understand and that you are there for her. If she asks to be left alone, ask her if it is ok to follow up with her to make sure she is doing ‘ok’. Most of the time people in a crisis accept this offer.
Know your limitations and seek professional help if you must. Don’t try to do all the work yourself and don’t try to be your friend’s therapist. Doing too much can make your friend less likely to discuss his or her issues with a professional if they have been addressed with you. Instead, try to discuss the benefits of counseling to your friend. Take your time and gradually encourage your friend to open up to therapy.
- Keeping secrets. People in a crisis often want you to keep secrets. Value you friend’s privacy, but let her know that there might be instances where you might have to break the secrecy for safety purposes (e.g., if you suspect that her life is in danger, or if she is a danger to others).
- Privacy. Reassure your friend that you won’t disclose private information to people for the purpose of gossip, venting out or for any other reason except to those that are in a position to help (e.g., therapist; family member).
If you suspect your friend is in serious danger, never hesitate to reach out for help. You can always call 911 or contact the nearest hospital ER.
And just remember…
- Don’t neglect your life. Keep your priorities on track. You also have other obligations (e.g., school, work) to keep up with and other relationships to nurture.
- You have the right to take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when it is more than you can handle. Again, encourage your friend to discuss their feelings to a mental health provider or a person of support.
- Don’t feel shy to seek help for yourself. If your friend’s crisis is affecting you, speak to a therapist or a person you trust. Remember, you are only human.
An emotional crisis happens to EVERYONE. We all go through a crisis at least once in our lifetime. The one thing we can do is to weather the storm and be there for each other.
Not even the best therapist, or the best medication in the world, will ever compare to the healing effects of true unconditional love.
Remember, behind every thunderstorm, there is always a bright sunny sky.