How to support someone going through a mental health emergency

by Ezra Hewing | 22 Mar 2023

How to support someone going through a mental health emergency

If someone is really struggling with their mental health and particularly if they are having suicidal thoughts, it can be difficult to know how to help.

It is easy to think ‘what if I make things worse’ or ‘I don’t know how to support them’.

But just listening to, and connecting with them, can really help as a first step.

Here Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind, gives some advice on what to do to support someone going through a mental health crisis.

Give them attention

If someone is having a mental health emergency, the first and most important thing to do is give them attention. We need to listen to them.

If you give someone attention and they feel genuinely listened to, they will often begin to calm down. Until someone begins to feel calmer, they are less able to seek support or talk about ways to forward.

That’s why we should give them attention first.

If someone shares that they are thinking about suicide, you should ask if they have a plan. This may feel uncomfortable but we shouldn’t avoid asking. This is because it gives us an idea of the degree of risk. And, if they do have a plan, we don’t want to leave them alone until the right support is in place.

Encourage them to make an emergency call and ask if there are people, they feel safe with, they can stay with if they feel unsafe.

If they can’t make the call, or tell you they don’t have anyone, phoning 111 option 2 will take you through to First Response Mental Health Support.

Ask questions

If you are listening to somebody in a state of distress and they say things like “there’s no point in going on” or “wouldn’t the world be better off without me”

This tells us they have lost any sense of control over things which affect them. They are likely to be missing meaning and purpose too.

Once you’ve given them attention and helped them calm down, you are then in a position to ask them questions.

This could be “can you tell me when you felt more in control of the things that matter to you?” or, “when did you feel like life did have meaning and purpose?”

Here we are gently guiding their attention to find solutions for themselves.

When we can listen and help people to calm down, we give them hope that there is a possibility for things to get better. Then they can begin to get back to a situation where their emotional needs are better met.

Remember, before we leave them, make sure they have someone to check in on them. Finally, ask them to book an appointment with their GP as soon as possible.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please call your GP, visit A&E, call 999 or 111 (option 2) or contact the Samaritans on 116 123. You can also visit our Help Directory for further contacts.

by Ezra Hewing

Ezra Hewing is Head of Education at Suffolk Mind and a Human Givens Therapist. Since joining Suffolk Mind in 2009, he has grown our busy workplace wellbeing service, training frontline mental health workers, doctors, nurses, substance abuse workers, members of the emergency services and heads of organisations, amongst others, in how best to understand and support emotionally healthy workplaces. He holds an MSc in the psychology and neuroscience of mental health from the internationally renowned Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience, King’s College, London, where he researched REM sleep and mental ill health, with a focus on the symptoms of schizophrenia.

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