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Glass Half Empty

I tend to be a glass-half-full kind of a person. To write a post with the opposite title takes an unexpected life experience and effort.

Decades ago when my boys were little, I took a CPR class where we practiced on a mannequin and got a certificate. The motivation was to be prepared for whatever the kids and life throw at us. As we are getting older, I've put a refresher class on our to-do list.

Preparing for and reacting appropriately to a physical health emergency comes naturally to many of us. But we rarely stop to think about how we will help a loved one, friend, or colleague who is in the throes of a mental health crisis.

No matter how much I equate physical and mental illness, let me be honest - I feel utterly ill-equipped to handle a mental health crisis. Life, though, has a way of throwing us into tough spots.

I know exactly what to do if someone faints or is in extreme pain or has a gaping wound or is having a seizure. I'll call 911 immediately and pray that they will arrive quickly to take charge. In the meantime, I think I have enough wherewithal to follow their directions.

But what to do when a friend calls and, within seconds, you realize they are in danger. What to do when they are saying things that are not rooted in reality, when they are not responding rationally, and when they are miles away.

One in five of us battles mental illness and some of us could find ourselves in an acute situation. If we are in a position to help, will we be callous, confused, or aggressive?

Our reaction matters and feeling ill-equipped is not an option based on these NAMI stats.

Here are some tips that may come in handy if you need to provide help in an acute mental health crisis.

  1. Make sure you know where the person is - ask for their location right away

  2. Ask if there is anybody else you can talk to

  3. Ask for the phone number of a family member or acquaintance nearby

  4. Patch in someone the person knows and keep the person engaged

  5. Call 911 and tell them you have a person in crisis in another jurisdiction, give them the remote address and ask to be connected to the relevant EMS unit

These actions can potentially save a life just like CPR can. Even if it is hard to assess the gravity of the situation from a distance and you don't know how to react perfectly, err on the side of caution and act decisively.

I found myself in this exact situation recently and I followed these tips. I kept reminding myself to treat the crisis as if it were a stroke and I suppressed any thoughts that I may be over-reacting. After capable people took charge and safety was restored, I found myself struggling to recenter. That's when my son gave me advice I will hold close to my heart - keep focus on the person who needed help.

Let's take good care and never hesitate to reach out for help. We may not have the perfect response but I trust that we will help in the best way possible.

That warm thought just filled my glass!

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