Seeing a loved one go through a mental health crisis is scary. You may wonder how to help someone having a breakdown or if you can be of any help at all. While you can't make the crisis go away, you can make sure the person feels loved and supported. As much as it helps to know you are there to support her, however, help from a loved one is not a substitute for professional psychiatric care. Making sure she gets the professional help she needs is an important part of responding to the mental health crisis.
Someone in the middle of a nervous breakdown or other mental health crisis may try to push you away. He may tell you he's fine, or he may tell you there's no helping him at this point. Using active listening and clear communication can help diffuse the immediate situation by helping your loved one feel like someone is really listening.
Start by maintaining eye contact with your loved one to show you're there to listen and support him. Make sure your body language shows concern. Give him your undivided attention, so he knows he will be heard. When he expresses what he's feeling, show you're listening by summarizing what he's saying and feeling.
In a crisis situation, the way you respond can completely change the way the situation ends. Even well-intentioned comments can cause your loved one to respond angrily or feel like you're making things worse. Saying things like "Just calm down" may make the person become more upset, for example. Saying "I know how you feel" can make the person upset because she knows you don't really understand what she's going through. Instead, you might say something like "I don't know exactly what you're going through right now, but I do know what it's like to hurt."
Another helpful message is that the person is not alone. A person going through a mental health crisis may feel that she has to go through this alone. Let her know that you are going to stick by her through the situation and that you can figure it out together. You might simply say "You're not alone. I'm here."
Figuring out what to say often comes down to knowing the person. Think about how the person has responded in the past to know what types of statements are comforting and which ones might set her off.
Get Immediate Help
If your loved one is suicidal or may self-harm, you need immediate help to get the situation under control. Calling 911 is an option in a highly volatile situation that is potentially life-threatening. Ask for someone with crisis intervention training if possible. Calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 is another option. If your loved one won't take the phone, turn your phone onto speakerphone, and initiate the conversation on your loved one's behalf. He may eventually start talking.
Schedule an Appointment
For situations that don't involve an immediate threat, help your loved one schedule an appointment with her psychiatrist to ensure she gets the professional help she needs. Emphasize the need for an appointment in the near future because of the mental health crisis. If your loved one doesn't have a mental health professional already, help her find one that matches her needs. You might encourage her to talk to her regular physician for recommendations, or you can research local mental health assistance options for her.
Follow through by ensuring she actually goes to her appointment. You might volunteer to drive her to the appointment and wait for her while she sees her psychiatrist. If she is prescribed medication, drive her to the pharmacy to fill the prescription. You can also help her remember to take her medication as prescribed.
Follow Up on the Situation
Helping your loved one through the immediate crisis helps avoid a life-threatening situation, but the mental health concerns don't just go away. Show your continued support for your loved one by checking in frequently. Let him know that you are still with him even once things start to improve. Encourage him to reach out to you if he feels himself slipping into another mental health crisis. Ensure he continues getting the professional mental health care he needs to avoid future crisis situations.
- Keep a daily diary of how you feel -- this helps you clarify your thoughts and keep them focused. It also allows you to monitor your loved one's progress in a more scientific fashion.
Shelley Frost writes professionally on a full-time basis, specializing in lifestyle, family, parenting and relationship topics. She holds an education degree and has extensive experience working with kids and parents.