We never know the instance of when we will encounter a loved one or stranger who desperately turns to us for help in their time of crisis. Sometimes trying to help a person survive in crisis will also bring about a mini-crisis in the person who wants to help. As we recover from our first reaction of “What Can I Do?” we become aware of some basic ways to help the person in crisis. In these times of both a national economic and health crisis, it is good for us to prepare ourselves with a survival guide in learning how to respond to another person experiencing crisis.Remember, everyone reacts to crisis differently based on their personality and background. Be sensitive to the needs of the person in crisis – they are going through an unsettling period in their life.
An example of this was a person heroin addict name “Jim” (name has been changed to protect those involved). He was in a tough situation, desperately trying to kick his addiction. He began searching for a Suboxone clinic in Indianapolis (where heroin addiction is a huge problem) and before he could get there, he ended up being hospitalized because of a psychotic breakdown. The people trying to calm him down ended up causing him to hurt himself.
Here are some survival guide suggestions when you are called upon to help another person deal with their crisis:
1. It is important to remember that although a crisis can seem overwhelming, emotional crises are generally not life-threatening. If the person feels guilty and expresses that their actions indeed created the crisis (i.e.: fraud, violence) help the person seek immediate professional help.
2. Be aware that the helper’s non-verbal, body language, will generally speak louder than words or comfort or guidance. Touching the other person may not always be an appropriate response. Watch for clues if the other person is inviting hand-holding or a hug.
3. Listen intently to what the person in crisis is saying. Encourage the person to talk about the crisis situation and their feelings.
4. Mobilize support. This step involves eliciting from the person in crisis the names of significant others who they believe can help them. Inquire as to how they believe that person can specifically help them. It is important not to probe too deeply at this stage. You are only gathering necessary information.
5. With their permission, make contact with the support persons named. Explain how the person in crisis believes that the support person can help them cope with their situation. You may need to explain, from the perspective of the person in crisis, why this is indeed an overwhelming situation for them. Be sure to tell them the results of your contact with their support persons. This will be comforting to the person.
6. Give accurate information regarding resources available to help them in their situation. When appropriate, offer resource choices that they can make. This will aid the person in feeling less helpless.
7. Help the person develop an outline of the steps they can take to deal with the situation. You will, most likely, need to repeat this several times – in different formats. Make sure the person understands what they need to do by having them repeat the immediate steps to you. Structuring how they can deal with the situation will make the circumstance less overwhelming for them. Providing a person in crisis with a sense of direction offers them a sense of security and hope.
8. Ask the person if they would like you to maintain contact with them, checking back with them on how they are doing. Knowing that someone cares about them in their crisis situation is comforting. Do not become overbearing or preachy. Be acutely aware of how and when to distance yourself.
The ultimate goal this survival guide is help a person in crisis return to their “normal” level of functioning. Sometimes working their way through a crisis will help the person grow in developing new insights and behaviors. This is the meaning of the Chinese pictograph for crisis. Consisting of two symbols; one for danger that can harm a person physically, emotionally, socially or spiritually -the other for opportunity leading to personal growth.