A pandemic is bad enough. But what if you or a loved one is dealing with a mental health crisis during this time?

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Individual crisis definitions vary, but in general a crisis arises when an uncontrollable and unpredictable stressful or a traumatic event occurs. A crisis leads to emotional instability that includes elements of anxiety and depression. An individual in crisis is unable to cope with the situation as they typically would be. 

In a sense, we’re all currently dealing with a crisis: the crisis that is this coronavirus pandemic. But some of us are perhaps better off than others. As I write this, I think of how my life would be different if I lived in a 3rd world country.  My current situation surely wouldn’t look like a hot cup of coffee and a laptop allowing me to write this post. It would probably look and feel a lot more like a war zone due to financial strain, crime, and a poor healthcare system. 

So here are some examples of what I’m referring to as I discuss a loved one being in crisis during this time:

  • A veteran with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) who is reminded of war during this pandemic
  • A woman who struggles with panic attacks, whose husband is abusive and now working from home
  • A child who has nothing to eat for lunch due to school closures
  • A former foster youth who is now homeless because their dorm closed
  • A dad who lost his job and became severely depressed during the pandemic
  • A woman who lost her mother due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is grieving the loss

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As you can see, everyone’s definition of crisis may be different. We each experience reality from our own perception, so be cautious to not minimize anyone’s experience(s) during this time. Rather, allow them to be angry, sad, confused, and so on. That means, simply allowing the person to cry if that’s what they need. It’s also important to mention that even though these are what we call an “individual crisis,” a crisis rarely affects just one person. As you can imagine, in all the examples above, more than one person is affected by each situation. But there’s also what we call a “systemic” crisis which may come in many forms, such as those economically based, for example a worldwide recession that leads to millions of individuals losing jobs. A systemic crisis happens when communities, people, and institutions become overwhelmed and the “response systems are unable to effectively contain and control the event in regard to both physical and psychological reactions to it”.

So, what can you do to help a loved one who is currently experiencing a mental health crisis?

Here are 5 things you can do to help a loved one who is experiencing a crisis. These are adopted from Psychological First Aid.

1. Reach out or make contact with the person experiencing the mental health crisis

A loved one who’s in mental health crisis may reach out to you, and as such you would be responding to someone who’s experiencing a crisis. When a person is in crisis, they may be confused or even irrational. They may not act the nicest, or they may not realize what they’re experiencing. And with today’s stay at home orders, it’s tough to know who may be experiencing a mental health crisis since you’re not seeing them in person as you normally would. So, you may need to be the one to initiate contact with your friends and family who may be struggling during this COVID-19 pandemic. You should do so in a helpful and compassionate way. For example, sending a simple “check-in” text can be helpful, such as “how are you holding up during this time?”

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2. Assure safety

Assuring safety is extremely important. We cannot truly focus on one’s mental health if they’re lacking basic needs such as shelter or food. It would be difficult to work on coping skills with a child who’s hungry. Likewise, if someone’s injured, or a serious danger to themselves or others they need to seek immediate attention by either calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room. If your loved one is already safe but doesn’t feel that way, remind them they are in fact safe. This might happen if someone has a flashback of a previous trauma, for example. This person may be acting as if they’re defending themselves from an attacker or in some other way re-living the past. To help, assist the person by reminding them where they are, that they are safe, and help them orient their senses. You can do this by asking questions such as, “how do your feet feel on the floor?” or “what 2 things can you smell in this room right now?” This will help the individual return to the present moment. 

3. Offer practical help

If you’re able to and willing, help address immediate needs and concerns of your loved one. This may be more difficult than usual during this coronavirus pandemic as social distancing took effect. Some ideas for how to help during this time include offering to stay on the line with the individual as they call the suicide prevention hotline or their sponsor; helping the person find a mental health counselor; or finding a place for them to live. 

4. Connect with a social support network

Isolation during this time is already ever present, but someone who’s in mental health crisis or recently experienced one may not be too eager to reach out for help. There are a number of reasons for this: embarrassment, shame, and fear among many. It can be helpful to connect the individual with their support network, including family members, friends, and community resources as applicable. Someone who’s hungry may need help locating the nearest food pantry. Another person may need to contact a family member or a friend. 

5. Connect with resources and services

Finally, it’s important to help your loved one find needed services. Again, you may be able to help them find a mental health counselor who may be available via online therapy. For someone who’s in crisis, it may be overwhelming to attempt to research the internet for hours for the right person. They also may not be thinking in the most helpful ways – and therefore might miss out on something right in front of them. For example, a friend whose child is sick may need to be reminded to call her doctor or take the child to an emergency room. 

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Taking steps such as the ones above will hopefully help your loved one find some immediate relief. They will likely need follow up care to resolve the mental health crisis, so it’s important to follow up with crisis therapy, or another therapy which aims to resolve the issues. This is typically provided by licensed professionals in the human services field, like mental health therapists.  

The following are additional crisis intervention resources:

United States (and other countries): https://www.psycom.net/get-help-mental-health

Columbus, OH: https://cap4kids.org/columbus/behavior-counseling-addiction/crisis-and-emergency-services/

NAMI Helpline and Crisis resources: https://www.nami.org/find-support/nami-helpline

THIS BLOG POST WAS WRITTEN BY Blue Boat Counseling Therapist, Olena Sowers, LPC

Online Therapy in Ohio for Mental Health Crisis During COVID-19 Pandemic 

If you’re not in an emergency crisis situation and decide you or your loved one are in need of a high quality Columbus OH counseling practice that’s offering online therapy in Ohio during the COVID-19 pandemic, please reach out and contact Blue Boat Counseling today. Our skilled Columbus therapists can support you and provide ongoing crisis therapy to help improve your mental health during these trying and unsettling times.