Frontline Initiative: DSPs Responding to Crisis

Ten Tips for Supporting People During a Crisis

Author(s)

Brian Healy LMHC, LBA, BCBA, is the Director of Behavioral Health Services at The Arc Mid-Hudson, Kingston, NY. Brian can be reached at brian.healy@ArcMH.org

smiling caucasian man with brown hair and blue shirt

Brian Healy

The past year has challenged many of us, along with the people we support. We navigated situations that we had never encountered or expected. From that experience, we have learned lessons that will help us as we continue to navigate an ever-changing world, while helping others lead safe and satisfying lives. These lessons will also help us as we face future crises that are still unknown and ahead of us.

  1. Take care of yourself. Depending on the nature of the situation, it’s important to remember that you may also be experiencing a crisis alongside the people you are supporting. This means that you are likely to need support and relief yourself. Self-care is a necessary skill during these times. It allows you to maintain your own well-being, while also remaining effective at supporting others.
  2. Trust your experience. While a list of tips is a helpful resource, you are already knowledgeable about the people you support. Some of the best information available to you is your own knowledge and experience. Even if you haven’t supported someone through the specific situation you are facing, you have probably worked with them through other difficult times. You have learned lessons of what works and what doesn’t. This can help you make individual-specific choices about the supports that people may need.
  3. Be honest. When navigating a crisis, it’s critical to be mindful of the information we share and how we share it. When asked questions about what is going on, we want to provide honest, concrete information using clear language. We also need to avoid providing inaccurate information in an effort to make others feel better. We don’t have to be blunt, but it is important to be accurate. While providing accurate information, we also want to be reassuring. When providing reassurance, avoid making claims or promises that are beyond your control. 
  4. Avoid rumors and gossip. In the early days of a crisis, there is often a lot of unclear or inaccurate information being shared. Try to keep rumors and gossip out of your conversations with the people you support. Even if you are sharing gossip discreetly, be mindful that it may be overheard and can impact others.
  5. Minimize change and provide stability. During a crisis, sometimes our routines get very shaken up. It’s important to try to minimize changes to the things that are within our control. While many things may be outside our control during these times, maintaining certain routines and keeping a sense of familiarity can help people feel safe and reassured.
  6. Maintain sources of social support. Social support is important for everyone, including the people we support. Spending time with people we care about can often make us feel better when stressed and a crisis can interrupt this. Even if they have to connect differently or in creative ways, make an effort to help those you support maintain their social connections.
  7. Make sure basic needs are being met. While it may seem obvious, people sometimes lose sight of their basic needs during a crisis. It’s important to help the people you support maintain their routines of eating well and getting good sleep. These help fuel each of us as you navigate any crisis situation.
  8. Just be there. We sometimes feel a sense of pressure to know exactly what to say in a crisis. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know, let me find out.” Put your energy into being present for the people you support. Often having a physical presence and using active listening is just the support people need.
  9. Model coping skills. The best way to help the people you support adopt a new habit is to teach it and model it. If you want to promote coping strategies, you can model them ourselves. You can invite the people you support to join us in utilizing them alongside us.
  10. Know when to ask for help. During a crisis, it is important to know and respect your own limitations. If you identify a situation that feels like it is beyond your ability to handle independently, don’t be afraid to ask for help from your team. Utilize the resources in your community.

Many of these tips relate to the basic principles of Psychological First-Aid. If you’re interested in learning more about Psychological First-Aid, visit the American Red Cross.