HELPING A STRANGER
Sometimes, the person you encounter who is showing signs of a mental health disorder is a stranger. It’s someone in the grocery store or on the train. It’s a homeless person acting out on the street. It’s the person in front of you in a movie theater. It may someone who lives in your neighborhood.
- Signs of a mental health disorder in a stranger in public often manifest as over-the-top, strange, rude, combative, bizarre, disproportionate, angry, sometimes frightening behavior.
- People who are struggling in public often have an illness that is not well managed or may not ever have been diagnosed or treated.
- Having a long-time, undiagnosed, and/or untreated mental illness can make people very sick. That can cause their public behavior to be alarming.
- Too often in our society, public displays of signs of a mental health disorder are mischaracterized as “terrible behavior” and the person is thought of as horrible or “crazy” when they are actually battling a disorder and need our help.
- If the situation feels safe enough, the most important way to help in these situations is by helping to de-escalate things.
- Say to others, “I think this this person might not be well,” and discourage them from reacting angrily, arguing, taunting, and provoking.
- Tell people to please stop recording the incident.
- Step in and take the person aside and talk quietly, sympathetically, and supportively. “I can see this is a bad situation. How about moving over here to talk.”
- At first, you too may get an angry rant or conversation that doesn’t make sense. Listen quietly. Say something supportive like, “That must feel awful,” then switch gears.
- Ask the person what his/her plans for the rest of the day are and encourage him/her to move on to that. Offer to call for help if the person expresses concern or fear for his/her wellbeing or seems truly disoriented.
PLEASE HELP PREVENT SOMEONE WHO IS HAVING A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS FROM GOING VIRAL!
- Because too few of us recognize the signs of a mental health disorder, we sometimes react in the worst ways possible. We provoke the person, we argue with the person, we yell with them, we tell them they’re crazy, and we laugh at them. And then we pull out our phones.
- Instead of offering help, we record and post footage of some of a person’s lowest moments. We would NEVER do this to someone having a seizure or choking or having a heart attack.
- We can break this pattern and model better responses using the strategies above!
PLEASE DON’T RECORD SOMEONE WHO MAY BE EXPERIENCING A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS! NOT RECORDING CAN BE AN ACT OF GREAT COMPASSION.
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW FEEL(S) SUICIDAL, go to the emergency room, call a mental health professional who can talk to you NOW, or call the police and say you have a mental health crisis, not a criminal situation!
In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Text HOME to The Crisis Textline at 741741. They are available 24/7 in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and Ireland.
See Also: HELPING SOMEONE WHO IS SUICIDAL