I wish that everyone could always provoke a positive helpful response from others when reaching out for help. Reaching out for help is SO hard to do, and to hear “Sorry, I’m busy” can be terrible when you’re in crisis.
But it’s humanly impossible to be there for another person 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Even the most loving constant caregiver, a new mother for example, can’t protect their child night and day. People have to sleep and eat and take care of themselves enough to take care of others.
Anyone who is a support person to someone with a mental illness needs to know that they are not holding someone’s life in their hands alone. That’s too much pressure! That’s why each and everyone needs a network of friends and professional support workers to reach out to in times of crisis. (Have you read the “My Support Wheel” post? Make sure you do!) There is always someone in the community to call if a friend has reached out to you for help and you can’t assist them. If you are a mental health support to a friend or family member, please take the following into account.
If You Aren’t Available to Help Your Friend in Crisis
- Take two minutes from whatever you are doing to respond to your friend’s call for help. Tell them you are glad that they reached out to you.
- Do explain why you cannot make yourself available.
- Respond with an offer to contact them as soon as it works for you. Giving a rough estimate of time until then is extra helpful, even if you’re out of town. “I’ll be home in a week but thinking of you often until I return. Is there someone else you can call?”
- Make sure your friend gets off the phone with a plan to contact someone else.
- Don’t make assumptions: Just because you assume someone will be fine, doesn’t mean that they will.
- Do provide other options. Crisis line numbers, 911, another friend, etc. If you are concerned that your friend has already harmed themselves or are planning on harming themselves, call 911. Safety is priority, and your friend will most likely thank you once they’ve come down from their crisis state.
Remember: Absolutely no one has a crisis for the “attention”. People do not “cry wolf”. Anyone in danger of harming themselves should ALWAYS be taken seriously.
A great way to help a friend ahead of time is to talk to them about their safety plan. Talk about your availability and what you feel you can and cannot do to help your friend and be kind about it. No one wants to be in crisis. No one wants to have to reach out and say, “I’m in danger of harming myself and I need your help.”
Speaking from experience, I know how terrible it is to live with feelings that put my life in danger. I never asked for this, yet it’s my reality and it stands between me and the life I want to be living. I wish I could tell my feelings, “No, this isn’t convenient right now. It’s the middle of the night and I shouldn’t bother anyone who may be going to bed.” It doesn’t work like that.
If you have a friend who has been or may one day be in mental health crisis, take a step back and think about the courage they are living with. The person who can stand up and say, “I’m suicidal and I need help” is the strongest person in the world. Make sure they know it and act appropriately so that your friend understands that there is good in this world worth living for. It just might save a life.