These days, it is not uncommon to know of a friend, family member, or even a peer that may be experiencing a crisis. Whether they are suffering from addiction, depression, stress, anxiety, or something else, it may be hard to know how to approach them about what they are experiencing and provide them with help.
Perhaps you are not sure if a friend or someone you know is actually in crisis, but you have noticed a change in their behavior, mood, routine, or appearance. You may be concerned that you are overreacting and fear that you may insult someone or that you will receive a harsh reaction if you inquire about their well-being. Recognizing the signs of someone in distress and knowing how to help them find the treatment they need could help save that person’s life.
Signs of Someone In Distress
Various warning signs that someone you may know could be in distress or crisis can present differently in everyone. Some common signs of distress include:
#1. Increased isolation:
- Noticeable changes in daily routines
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Desire to be left alone
- Never leaving the house, isolating behavior
#2. Personality changes:
- Becoming confrontational or aggressive
- Increased level of conflicts with friends and family
- Demonstrating disruptive behavior (i.e. excessive crying or screaming/yelling)
- Noticeable changes in behavior (i.e. drinking, eating, or sleeping more than usual)
#3. Changes in health and appearance:
- Frequent sickness reported with no apparent cause
- Extreme fatigue
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Disheveled appearance, poor hygiene
You can also learn about the warning signs of someone suffering from substance use disorders here.
How to Approach Someone That Needs Help
Initiating a conversation with a friend or loved one about their crisis or addiction can seem like a daunting task. You might be concerned about how the other person may react if they become confrontational, violent, or retaliatory. However, having a conversation is important, even if it is a difficult process. Your friend or loved one may not have the capacity to reach out to find help for themselves, so starting a conversation with them could be the very thing that helps save their life.
Here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to consider when approaching someone in need:
- Do have a conversation: Establish a time to talk with the individual in a safe and supportive space. The goal is to have an open conversation with the person about what they are experiencing to be able to get them the help that they need.
- Do show empathy: Make sure to express your concern and show support. When you are talking with your friend or loved one, do not rush the conversation; be an active listener. Provide reassurance to let them know you care for them and want them to become well.
- Do ask how you can help: Offer help them find resources such as doctors, support groups, or treatment centers that can help address their crisis.
- Do not pass judgment: When helping someone suffering from a crisis or an addiction, please do not pass judgment or place blame on the individual for their current circumstances. Criticizing or shaming someone when they are in need of help is counterproductive and may drive them further into crisis.
- Do not relate to their crisis personally: Even if you have experienced a similar crisis as your friend, do not relate your personal experience to theirs. Saying phrases such as “I know how you feel” could be aggravating. Each person’s experiences while in crisis may be different and although the crisis may seem familiar, it is unlikely you know just how that person feels.
- Do not avoid or ignore: Although you may not know the right words to say to someone or may feel bad for your friend experiencing the crisis, please do not avoid or ignore them. During a crisis, people need a support group. If however, their crisis is something you wish not to be involved with, please still be a friend and direct the person to professional resources.
Learn more about supporting a friend or loved one here.
In Case of an Emergency
If someone is in a crisis situation, call 911 immediately or take them to the nearest hospital or emergency room.
Signs of an emergency include:
- Unconsciousness after drinking or taking drugs
- Conversations around suicide
- Severe withdrawal symptoms
You can learn more information here about supporting friends and loved ones and getting them the help they need.