Mental Health First Aid
Mental health challenges are one of the most prevalent health problems in the U.S., often requiring medical intervention just like other illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. When someone you care about is living with a condition like depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar disorder, it’s essential to know what to do if they experience a crisis and need your help. This Mental Health Month, what can you do to provide outreach to someone who’s struggling?
Understanding Mental Illness
Even if someone with a mental health condition is working with a qualified therapist and following a treatment plan, they can still experience times of uncertainty or emotional upheaval. While having a loved one with mental illness can be sad and frightening, taking proactive steps to support them and show them they aren’t alone can make a world of difference.
First, it’s essential to take steps to educate yourself on mental health symptoms and work to end the stigma associated with your loved one’s diagnosis. Mental illnesses don’t arise because of a weakness or a character flaw. Nobody is to blame for these conditions, and they can disrupt every aspect of a person’s life, including their ability to get along with others.
Often, people living with mental health challenges attempt to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, which can lead to a substance use disorder. When this self-destructive behavior exists alongside issues such as depression, anxiety or PTSD, clinicians refer to it as a dual diagnosis, and the need to seek help becomes even more urgent.
How to Respond to a Mental Health Emergency
A mental health emergency is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them at risk of self-harm or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively. Many things can precipitate a mental health crisis, including grief, stress, conflict or loss. Someone who is struggling may not always be able to communicate clearly, so it’s essential to pay attention and stay calm.
Warning signs don’t always help you recognize when someone you love might be more vulnerable to experiencing a mental health crisis. Still, if you notice marked changes in their behavior or ability to tend to their hygiene or self-care, make a note of how long these problems have been going on and the amount of disruption they’re causing. If you suspect the person is at risk of suicide, take steps to intervene as soon as possible. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 800-273-8255.
If you don’t believe the danger is urgent, call a health care professional who is familiar with the person’s history. This provider can assess the situation and suggest an action plan, including admitting the person to the hospital. If you can’t reach someone and the situation is worsening, consider contacting your city’s crisis response team or other similar resources. Be sure to tell first responders all the information you know about what your loved one is taking – including vitamins, over-the-counter or prescription medications, alcohol or drugs – to help determine what role these substances might play in the episode. Often, there can be interactions between substances, including legitimately prescribed medications.
You Can Be the Difference
Mental Health First Aid is an educational program from the National Council for Mental Well-Being that teaches participants about mental health and substance abuse. The training helps people learn to identify, understand and respond to warning signs of mental illness and addiction. To find a course near you, start your search today.
If you are worried about a loved one’s co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorder, Beach House is here to help. At our secluded Florida campus, we have built one of the country’s leading addiction treatment centers. Our treatment professionals provide a full continuum of medically and clinically integrated care to adults with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Reach out to our admissions counselors to learn more about our culture.