When a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, it's natural to feel confused and helpless. Throughout your life, many of us learn how to give first aid in an emergency for all types of situations.... except for those involving mental calamities. Yet, many of us find ourselves in a situation where help is clearly and eminently required, and you have no idea where to start or who to call. Here are a few tips and tools that should be included in your psychological 'first aid kit':
1. Your ears. Reaching out is the first step to providing the help he or she needs to get better. Sit down to talk in a supportive, non-judgmental way. Stay calm, and do more listening than talking. Show that you can be trusted to lend an ear and give support without passing judgment.
2. Contact Information for psychiatric and psychological professionals that you've vetted. Similar to having your pediatrician's contact information handy in case of an emergency, a list of professionals you can call is critical. While your support is important, professional help is the best way to get the problem under control. Psychologists and psychiatrists have specialized training that makes them experts in understanding and treating emotional and behavioral problems, and this need is especially acute when an emotional disorder has reached crisis level. They use scientifically tested techniques that go beyond talking and listening.
3. 911 and National Suicide Prevention Line. No emotional crisis is more urgent than threats to harm himself or herself and/or someone else. If you discover or suspect that your loved one is dwelling on thoughts of self-harm or harming others, or developing a plan, it's an emergency. If possible, take him or her to the emergency room for urgent attention. Do not leave him or her alone. If he or she will not seek help or call 911, eliminate access to firearms or other potential tools for harm to self or others, including unsupervised access to medications.
4. A crisis plan. Some people find it helpful to write down a plan in case of a crisis. The plan may include a list of symptoms and signs as well as a list of phone numbers of helpful friends and family. More on managing crisis can be found here.