Encountering someone who appears to be in emotional distress can be a frightening experience. You might not know how to react at first.
“Should I go over and talk to them?”
“Should I call someone?”
“Maybe I should just keep walking.”
While these are all perfectly common reactions, know that you can help – and that you should help – someone in emotional distress. Whether that person is dealing with an anxiety disorder, mood disorder, or substance abuse disorder, they most likely need help that they might not be able to seek out on their own.
“But how can I help?”
Simple – by being the first line of support to them until professional help can arrive (if needed).
I recently took a class that was offered by my job that taught me exactly how to be prepared for these types of situations. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical at first. I didn’t think that a course could prepare me for situations of such high intensity. I knew it would be helpful to learn the basic approaches, but I didn’t think that it would actually make me more comfortable if I were ever put into a scenario during which I would have to be that type of support to someone else.
But I was wrong.
After I completed my Mental Health First Aid training course, not only did I feel more knowledgeable about mental health in general – but I felt a lot more at ease with the idea of helping someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Perhaps the most important thing I took away from my MHFA course, though, was this little acronym: ALGEE.
Yes, ALGEE. It stands for the five basic steps you should take when helping someone in need:
Assess for risk of suicide or harm
Give reassurance and information
Encourage appropriate professional help
Encourage self-help and other support strategies
First and foremost, it is always so important to assess the situation. Make sure that you are not putting yourself into harm’s way and that the person in crisis is far from harm’s way. If the person you are trying to help is inside their home or somewhere else you can’t see, try inviting them outside to somewhere they are comfortable to ensure that you’re both away from any unsafe objects. Try talking them through their situation calmly. Ask them what’s going on or if they have experienced it before. Let them know that you’re listening, and nonjudgmentally at that. Let them know you understand it might be scary for them. Reassure them that you are there to help, and then encourage them to try to help themselves or to seek professional help if you feel that their symptoms are beyond the self-help level. You’d be surprised to know how much you help by simply lending your ear and your time.
My hope is that eventually everyone will be required to take a MHFA class. Mental health is so crucial to overall wellness, and if we were all just a little more knowledgeable, we could finally close the gap between mental illness and those who actually receive treatment.
If you’re interested in taking a MHFA class, visit mentalhealthfirstaid.org. There, you can learn more about the course, find a course near you, and join me in becoming a Mental Health First Aider.