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What you can do to help someone in crisis in the age of social distancing [Letter]

As many of us now experience increased isolation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is great concern for those who were struggling with mental health and substance abuse prior to widespread shutdowns. There is also the growing concern for those who have not routinely struggled with mental health challenges who may now be facing new difficulties due to loss of jobs, loss of close connection with friends, and high levels of stress. As I shared at the April 7 Board of Education teleconference, here are some things you can do to support yourself and friends who may be in crisis.

Listen, listen, listen. This is one of the most important things for support. Listening can, in fact, be far more powerful than giving advice. Be receptive to their texts and calls, recognize and validate how they’re feeling, and reassure them that you will be there for them. Having an open line of communication with someone in crisis during these times is so critical, and just the fact they are opening up to you is a difficult step for many to take.

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The small things. These can make all the difference. For example, instead of asking someone, “Why are you feeling this way?” ask “When did you start feeling this way?” This validates their feelings. Also, avoid trying to reduce their pain by pointing out all the great things in their life — this seems tempting, but may be harmful, as you have no clue the battles the person may be fighting in their head. A lot of these may be out of the person’s control.

Know the crisis resources that are available. Harford County has a 24/7/365 crisis center which you can reach at 1-800-NEXT-STEP or 410-874-0711. If you are seriously concerned about a person and are no longer able to reach them, or know they are in an imminent crisis, the Harford Crisis Center can help. Also know there are anonymous hotlines if you are struggling but don’t feel comfortable sharing it with someone you know, like 1-800-273-8255, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, and Text ‘HELLO’ to 741741.

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Don’t be afraid to be direct. If your conversations with someone lead you to believe they are considering suicide, ask them: “Have you thought about killing yourself/taking your life?” Contrary to popular belief, you will not plant the idea in someone’s head to commit suicide by asking this. If you believe someone is at immediate risk of self-harm, always dial 911. Otherwise, contact the Harford Crisis Center or another crisis resource.

Finally, if you are struggling, know that there are people in this community who want to help and want you to be OK. Please reach out to a responsible friend, crisis hotline, or another individual you trust.

CHRISTIAN WALKER

Bel Air

The writer, a senior at C. Milton Wright High School, is the student member of the Harford County Board of Education and coordinator of the HCPS Student Mental Health Council.

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