13 ways to help a friend or family member through a mental health crisis
The MIND 24-7 Team | October 11, 2023
Mental health crises can be incredibly intense. Watching someone you love experience a difficult experience is hard. For those who want to help but don’t know how, it’s important to learn techniques for assisting someone in their time of need. This list offers 13 ways to help a friend or family member going through a mental health crisis.
1. Be present and patient
Simply being present and patient is incredibly important. Be there, be available and check in periodically. Know that recovery takes time, and let your presence be a glimmer of hope in a difficult time.
2. Be nonjudgmental
Judgment is often fuel for negativity and has no place in a mental health crisis. Instead, be open-minded and empathetic. Create a safe and supportive environment to help the person experiencing a crisis feel comfortable.
3. Avoid labels
Avoiding labels is crucial to reducing stigma. The best way to do this is to focus on the individual experience and encourage open communication. Take the time to see the person beyond the diagnosis, promote empowerment, and emphasize humanity and compassion.
Listening may not seem like much, but it can be incredibly healing. To be an active listener, avoid giving unsolicited advice or trying to “fix” your friend or family member. Use nonverbal cues, such as nodding to show attention, and ask clarifying questions to gain understanding.
Validation is an important way to help someone feel heard, understood and safe. To validate an individual, recognize the truth in their thoughts or feelings. Don’t dismiss, minimize or try to gloss over their experience.
6. Respect boundaries
Respecting boundaries will help a person in a crisis feel safe and begin to heal. Don’t pressure them to share more than they want. Respect their privacy but let them know you’re there to support them in any way they need.
7. Remind them of their strengths
Remember, the person is not their crisis. Keep their strengths and positive attributes at the forefront of your mind. Help them remain confident that hard times will eventually pass. See them as a whole person—even when they feel like everything is falling apart. It is a way to help them connect with their strengths to get through a difficult time.
8. Follow the safety plan
If they have a safety plan in place, get it out and be available to help them follow it, if needed. This may involve calling other friends or family members for support, connecting with a mental health professional and practicing coping skills.
If the person in a crisis is open to pivoting to an activity that brings them joy, do something fun. Get outside, go on a walk, be active or get fresh air. The right kind of distraction can help a person connect to more balanced parts of their brain. Moving their body can help calm their mind and shift attention away from thoughts and worries.
10. Take care of details
In a mental health crisis, it can be difficult for a person to remember to handle chores and obligations. Think about logistics and tasks they might forget and help out wherever possible. Offer to feed their cat, walk their dog, take out their trash or check their mail.
11. Educate yourself
Understanding mental health challenges is crucial to helping someone who experiences them. Learning about warning signs, symptoms and treatment options can help people respond appropriately and empathetically.
12. Encourage self-care
Self-care is good for the body and mind. If the person experiencing a mental health crisis is open to the idea, help them take some time for self-care. This could be something like taking them for a manicure or pedicure, enjoying a delicious meal together or babysitting kids while they take care of themselves.
13. Encourage professional help
Whether someone simply needs a friendly ear or doesn’t want to be alone, it’s important that they tell people what they need. Remember that although a friend or family member is a crucial support in a crisis, they are not a substitute for professional mental health care. A trained behavioral health professional can help a person get a diagnosis, specialized treatment, medication and ongoing help to overcome challenges.
For help with a mental health crisis plan and to get mental health care in minutes, visit one of our convenient locations or text/call 1-844-MIND247.