How to Support Someone Experiencing a “Mental Breakdown” (Mental Health Crisis)
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When someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, it can be challenging to know how to provide compassionate and effective support. Friends and family play different support roles that are just as important. Because mental health challenges still carry a lot of stigma, talking about them outside the clinic can go a long way to normalize things and take some of the shame out of problems that are hard to begin with. They’ll talk with a professional when they’re ready. 

In the meantime, there are some things you can do to show you care. If you work with people who struggle with their mental health, you could look into mental health first aid certification. But you don’t need to take a class to learn how to support a friend in need.

If this person has expressed that they’re having thoughts of suicide or self-harm, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

This article will give you some ideas on how to provide emotional support and maintain boundaries to keep both of you safe.

What should I do if someone is having a mental health crisis?

The best thing to do is show this person you care by offering emotional support and listening to them without judgment. Remember that you don’t know the full extent of what’s weighing on them, so try not to make assumptions. Being there for them and helping with practical things like preparing meals or taking care of household tasks can make a big difference. 

How to support someone who’s having a mental health crisis

It can be hard to know what to say when a friend or a loved one is going through a challenging time. But it’s less about what you say and more about companionship. Tell them you’re there to listen and ask open-ended questions. Offer reassurance when you can, and when they talk about difficulties they’re having, validate their feelings by showing you understand the impact. For example, you could say, “I can see why you’re feeling so upset. It may take some time for this to pass, but I don’t want you to feel alone.”

There may be times when people you care about don’t want your help. In these cases, remind them that you’ll be there when they’re ready to talk. If they’ve been self-isolating, give them their space, but keep checking in. Invading someone’s privacy during a tough time could damage their trust and push them to isolate further.

These seven tips should help you be a good friend and companion to someone who’s having a mental health crisis:

  • Stay calm — When emotions are running high, panicking or matching their level of distress won’t help them feel better. Keep an even tone and show concern, but stay anchored. If you’re getting fatigued, you might need to set a time limit on your conversation and take a break for some self-care. You can always promise to check in again when your needs are taken care of.

  • Establish safety — This is about both the person you’re caring for and yourself. Know what you need to feel safe and secure offering help and what your limitations are. You can ask them if they’re feeling safe and if you can help them troubleshoot the situation or try to get them in touch with the appropriate crisis assistance.

  • Listen actively — If they’re open to talking about their problems, ask follow-up questions and respond to show them you’re listening. You don’t have to have answers. If you feel comfortable doing so, sharing that you’ve been through similar struggles could help this person feel less alone. But be careful not to make the conversation about you.

  • Try not to make assumptions — Your goal should be to understand what this person is going through from their perspective, not yours. This is why those follow-up questions are important. You might say, “Tell me if I’m getting this right” and repeat what they’ve said in your own words. 

  • Offer practical help and support — Getting professional help serves an important purpose, but a therapist can’t drive you to an appointment or bring you a meal when you can’t manage to cook for yourself. Friends, family and even co-workers are key allies for day-to-day support.

  • Assume they are doing their best — If someone is feeling overwhelmed, they may not be able to think clearly or handle their regular responsibilities. Just like telling someone to “calm down,” telling them to buckle down and try harder isn’t helpful. Self-compassion can be difficult for some people, but suggest that they deserve it and normalize taking time for rest and self-care whenever possible.

  • Stay in touch — When you’re finishing up the conversation, let them know when you’ll check in again and when you’ll be available for them to reach out. It’s OK to take time for your own needs and responsibilities — the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup” applies here.

Help your loved one get mental health treatment at Lightfully

Forcing someone to get mental health treatment rarely gets them the help they need. The most effective treatment happens when they want help from a professional. They might just need some time to let their most overwhelming feelings pass or come to terms with the problem they’re facing first. 

If this person has some concerns about seeking professional help, you can share our articles on how to ask for help with depression, seeking help for self-harm or overcoming a fear of therapy. For people with busy schedules, virtual mental health treatment can be just as effective as seeing a therapist in person.

Our treatment philosophies put the whole person first so the care they receive isn’t based on a diagnosis or the negative symptoms they’re experiencing. We help people understand their needs and learn skills for mental wellness they’ll be able to use for the rest of their lives.

If you’re supporting someone who’s ready for a higher level of treatment than outpatient therapy, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. They can help you learn about treatment options and schedule an assessment to get started.

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