What if you knew, without a doubt, that you could help someone with mental health troubles just by listening to them and caring about them?
You don’t need to know the right thing to say or do. Simply being willing to listen in a caring way gives the person what they need most in that moment.
That’s what a group of local mental health professionals suggested when asked about how to respond to someone who appears to be struggling or in crisis -- online, for example, or in a social media post -- but who is also saying they don’t want help.
Even when a person wants help, shame and stigma can keep them from asking for it, said Rev. David A. Lima, executive minister for the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford. As can judgement, he said.
“People don't want to be judged,” Lima said. “They want to be helped, but they don't always think they're going to receive the help.”
That’s why it’s best to offer help without trying to minimize the person’s experience.
“I think it's really important that people try to avoid saying things like, ‘You don't mean that;’ ‘This is stupid;’ or ‘Why are you seeking attention?’ and really try to move more toward being empathic, like ‘It sounds like you're really struggling, why don't you give me a call?’ or, ‘Why don't you reach out to me, I'm here for you,’” said Matthew Boyd, Mobile Crisis Intervention program manager at Child & Family Services, Inc.
If someone appears suicidal, there may be additional concerns, but even then, being able to talk to a caring individual can help release the pressure.
“Any single time anybody says that they are suicidal, take it seriously,” said Darcy H. Lee, executive director of the Samaritans of FR/NB. “We always do. That's why every one of our callers gets a suicide risk assessment.”
But, she said, in some situations being able to talk about one’s problems can be enough.
“I think there is a benefit for people of just getting it out, just saying what it is, “ she said. “While it seems extremely traumatic and scary, maybe just by (posting), they feel better by putting it out there.”
Boyd agreed. “Most people who are suicidal, it’s situational and if they talk about it, they may never be suicidal again,” he said. “They don't get hospitalized. They get the support they need and they move on.”
If a suicide risk assessment is needed, there are local professionals who can do that.
“Here at the crisis center, we take calls from people all the time who are concerned about their loved ones who have posted something. We're happy to reach out to them if they have a phone number,” said Boyd, noting that if a person is unresponsive and continues to express suicidal thoughts, it may trigger the need for a wellness check.