What to do When… Your friend is in Crisis

Posted Jan 18th, 2018 in Rhonda Wiersma, Helping Others

What to do When… Your friend is in Crisis

Frequently I get emails or get pulled aside and asked “how do I help?” I get where this question is coming from because helping people is difficult; at times we get hurt in the process or we just aren’t sure what to do or say. We sometimes feel powerless or helpless in the face of suffering. I get the frustration at feeling powerless. But helping people does not involve a check box list as each area of struggle is unique to the individual. What I do hope to do in this series of 3 posts geared towards different areas of struggles (crisis, chronic illness/pain, and long term) is offer a guideline that can be adjusted to best serve individual you are helping (we are not cut from cookie cutters!).

When someone is in crisis, she* needs to have a safe space to vent, process, and talk about what just happened. Ask questions to learn what her fears and concerns are. Show acceptance by listening attentively, maintaining eye contact and using nonverbal signals to encourage her to talk (nodding your head, maintaining open body language by not crossing your arms). Speak calmly and slowly. Reassure her that she is safe now, that her responses are normal to the situation. Ask questions to draw her out. If possible, give her a glass of water as they may not ask because she might feel like she is a bother. If she is trembling--often this is due because of shock--see if you can provide her with a blanket. When unsure what to say, say nothing as silence also validates her experience; or follow up with a question.

When someone is in crisis, do not tell her that “this could be much worse.” Perhaps this is true, but what she hears is judgement (and you are probably not judging, perhaps scrambling for something to say). Do not blame her or ask questions that lean towards “why” (examples: what did you do that he would do that? Why would you say that to her? These types of questions also come across as judgy). Do not tell her to “quit freaking out” as the emotional response to trauma is normal and needs to run its course (this is like telling someone who has broken their leg in the past five minutes to stop saying “ouch”).

Call the police when safety or laws have been violated. If children under the age of 16 have been abused, you have a legal obligation to inform relevant authorities (like Family and Children’s Services). If someone is suicidal and you may not have the proper training to deal with this, call the Distress Centre as they can help you walk through this well. Or you can also drive them to the nearest hospital to get assessed or call emergency services. Victims Services has an advocacy program for victims (and are often dispatched when emergency services are utilized) and can provide resources in the area. Calling authorities is scary for a number of reasons but God has appointed the legal system to protect and perform justice. We must never disobey the laws (given to us by authority that God has appointed) out of fear or thinking we have to keep this under wraps (Romans 13:1-7).

A word of caution when children are witnesses or victims in a crisis situation. They are frequently they overlooked under the misunderstanding that if they cannot understand what is going on, they are not impacted. Get the children away from the crisis scene or situation as quickly as possible and try as much as possible to not separate them from a safe person (usually mom). Children often mirror the adults around them (if people are crying and fearful the child will often be crying and be clingy in fear). Try to calm the adults around the children to provide a safe place for the little ones. Children may not be able to express their own feelings well and so after the crisis has passed you may witness them play-acting the crisis out. This is similar to an adult talking about what she has just been through but as a child does not have the vocabulary to express herself, play-acting is her form of “talking it out.”

After a crisis, follow up with the person. Don’t assume that everything is fine. Go with her to the hospital, drive her to a court appearance later, offer to take her to her first counselling appointment if she would find that easier. Contact them a week or a month later to see how they are doing. In specific traumatizing situations (like a sudden death) write down the date of the crisis in a private calendar and send them a note a year later to remind them that they are being thought of and prayed over. For children, monitor their play-acting. If in several weeks their playing still reflects the crisis or becomes increasingly violent, seek appropriate help for the child (you can call Elisha House for referrals).

This post is merely a guideline. We are called to walk alongside our brothers and sisters, to mourn with those who mourn. My desire is that this short post will give you a frame of reference to use when walking alongside someone in crisis but note that this is a very brief guideline! There is a lot to learn when dealing with crisis situations. Please refer out and get in contact as soon as possible with professionals when you feel that you are not adequately equipped. Not feeling adequately equipped is not an excuse to bow out of helping! Even if you are not the primary support, the person in crisis still needs secondary support…like you.

*Female pronounces will be used in this post but recognize that males and females may both encounter crisis situations.