Crisis De-escalation

As a Listener, you will eventually run into situations where a member is suicidal, self-harming, or threatening to hurt themselves. These members can be considered “in crisis.”

The following guide is not foolproof. Please understand that neither of us is mental health professionals and we can only try our best to help those who are going through a hard time. This guide is meant to serve as a template for how to handle crisis situations.

Tip #1: Be sympathetic and attempt to understand where they are coming from.

This is not the time to tell someone “You have so much to live for” or “so many people will miss you.” When someone is in the mindset that they should hurt themselves, they generally believe that they have nothing to offer the world. That the world will be better off without them.

Don’t judge them for their thoughts or try to change those thoughts.

Instead of trying to challenge their thoughts (which can make things worse), encourage them to keep talking to you. Ask them simple questions such as:

  • Did something happen today?

  • Tell me your story, if you’d like.

  • What led up to these thoughts?

Tip #2: Relax. Breathe. Focus. Let yourself go to a place of calmness.

When you are dealing with someone in crisis, you might start getting scared and panicking yourself. Sometimes these situations are triggering (even if you usually are not easily triggered!) or can shake you up, especially when the person begins to spiral.

So before you get to that point, make sure you are in the mindset of being relaxed. Focus on your breathing. Stay calm- for their sake.

The calmer you are, the more control you exude. Keeping calm can help that person deescalate whereas if you are frantic, you can make them even worse.

Tip #3: Let them be an emotional mess.

Human beings are emotional creatures. We also have different levels of stress limits and breaking points. When someone is in crisis, they have reached that point.

It’s only natural that they’re frustrated, not making sense, and emotional.

Encourage them to keep letting it out. Let them rant at you, speak their truths, and be upset. Validate their pain.

One thing you can say is, “Even though your pain might not make sense to other people, it’s real, and it’s okay to be in pain. I’m going to stay with you through this ordeal.”

Tip #4: Affirm that you hear them.

A common mental block is believing, “No one listens to me. No one cares.” In this case, showing rather than saying, is most helpful. Don’t tell them that you listen or care, but show them.

Continue to validate what they say. Offer sympathy.

Tip #5: Avoid confronting them, even if they challenge you.

Not all people in crisis react internally. Some of them take it out on Listeners or the people around them. If someone in crisis is challenging you, remain calm and avoid confronting their accusations or questions head-on.

For example, if someone says, “You don’t actually give a fuck. You’re just here as a Listener to make yourself look good,” don’t engage with them.

Instead, you can say, “It sucks that you feel that way about me, but I am going to stay with you through this situation. So many people have hurt you, so I don’t blame you for feeling like this at all!”

Tip #6: Ask, instead of demanding.

When they are done speaking and ranting, they may feel empty or “finished.” This is an excellent time to ask them if they’d do something for you, such as going to the bathroom and washing their face. Put the razor away. Splash cold water on themselves.

Stay away from, “You need to/you should,” but focus on asking gently. Try, “Is it okay if I ask you for a small favor? Will you go splash some cold water on your face, just to help bring some different sensations to your body?”

Tip #7: If nothing else works, submit a support ticket and ping a Head Listener.

If the situation continues to get worse, submit a support ticket through Sans and ping a Head Listener in the #listener channel. Sometimes, people are at the point of needing hospitalization or emergency help, which we can’t offer through anonymous Discord peer support. We have to report it.

Conclusion:

Crisis de-escalation is not a proven art, but something that we can attempt to help others who are feeling like hurting themselves. You can use this guide as a template to help you through your next crisis situation.