September is Suicide Prevention Month. Addressing mental health crises with support and treatment is the most effective way to prevent self-harm and suicide, yet only a fraction of people experiencing mental health challenges receive proper resources and treatment. Watching for signs of distress in our friends and family members is one way we can all help reduce suicide rates and improve the mental health of those we love. Today we share tips from the American Psychological Association (APA) on how to help someone in an emotional crisis.
Spotting the signs of a mental health crisis
Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to see when someone is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts. However, there are some warning signs to be on the lookout for.
- Neglect of personal hygiene.
- A dramatic change in sleep habits, such as sleeping more often or not sleeping well.
- Weight gain or loss.
- A decline in performance at work or school.
- Pronounced changes in mood, such as irritability, anger, anxiety, or sadness.
- Withdrawal from routine activities and relationships.
These changes can happen quickly or gradually. If you are sensing a change in behavior from a friend or family member, don’t wait to check-in. If you have a feeling that something is wrong, you’re probably right.
The first thing to do if you suspect someone is in a mental health crisis is to reach out. Sit down in a supportive and non-judgmental way and offer a safe space for them to express themselves. A simple invitation to share is a good starting point. Something like: “Let’s talk. You don’t seem like yourself lately. Is there something going on?” Listen actively, stick to the facts, and avoid blame or criticism.
Seek professional help
The support of family and friends is critical, but if you are not a licensed mental health professional, you are not equipped to provide all the resources necessary to address a mental health crisis. The next step is to encourage them to seek professional support.
Remind the person that mental health professionals have the resources and training to offer more effective support and treatment strategies. Encourage them to speak to their primary care physician about mental health resources or utilize free resources in their school or community. Workplaces with employee assistance programs (EAP) can often refer resources or they can use APA’s Psychologist Locator Service.
It is not uncommon for those experiencing depression to think about suicide, however, if someone is actively considering suicide, sees no alternatives to managing their mental health crisis, or is harming themselves, it’s critical that they are connected with resources immediately.
If the person refuses to seek help, emergency room medical staff can connect someone with psychological resources immediately. If you believe someone is seriously considering suicide, do not leave them alone and remove potentially tools for harm from their vicinity. The numbers below are hotlines for immediate help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1 to be connected with the Veterans Crisis Line)
To connect with a skilled counselor: 1-800-273-TALK