What to Do in a Psychological Crisis

Part of the Psychology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

When someone is in a state of panic or extremely angry about something, it’s useful to have some basic ideas of how to help. You can use psychological first aid — a form of crisis intervention that consists of five easy steps.

  1. Connect: Make psychological contact with the person in crisis.

    Make eye contact and communicate a sense of caring. Use a calm voice. If you think the person may be dangerous, keep a safe distance and use non-threatening, nonverbal behavior. (Don’t point at them or cross your arms, for example.)

  2. Explore: Find out the who, what, when, why, where, and how of their current crisis.

  3. Seek solutions: Help the individual generate his or her own solutions; only suggest solutions if he or she can’t come up with anything.

  4. Take action: Assist the person in taking action based on the agreed-upon solution.

  5. Follow up: Agree to a time or a place in the near future that you will check on the person to see if the crisis was resolved or if he or she needs further assistance.

If someone you know is in crisis, these steps should help. However, they’re not intended to take the place of a competent mental health or emergency services professional. If you feel like you’re in over your head in a situation, do not hesitate to contact your local crisis hotline, which you can find in your local phone book, or call 1-800-352-3301, the number for College Hospital. Especially if you notice any of the following suicide warning signs:

  • Suicide notes

  • Direct threats

  • Giving personal belongings away

  • Talking about or preoccupied with death

  • Hopelessness

  • Social isolation

  • Abrupt changes in appearance, risk-taking behavior, activities, or weight

  • Severe depression

  • Extreme apathy (acting like he or she doesn’t care)

  • Feeling helpless or beyond help

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