By Michael Thompson, Family Support Group Leader
I’ve heard it said before that the Chinese word for “crisis” is made from two characters meaning “danger” and “opportunity.” Actually, it isn’t.
The characters are better identified as “danger” and “critical point.” The second character doesn’t provide any optimistic hope for moving forward. However, it does identify that there is a certain moment when a decision needs to be made. A crisis in any language is bad. The question left to us is this: Are we ready to respond?
In Boy Scouts I was taught to live by the motto: “Be Prepared!” As young men, we were taught skills in first aid and emergency preparedness over and over and over again. It was important, because we were going to be out in the woods and needed to know what to do in any conceivable situation. Fortunately, my troop never encountered a terribly serious crisis, though I have had to use that same knowledge in daily life several times.
In high school, I went to a party where the host himself was very depressed. He took a bottle of liquor upstairs and downed much of it in a short period of time. His sister and closest friends were terribly concerned, so I sat through the night with him. Most of the crowd was sent home. The few of us left took turns giving him water, monitoring his pulse, and letting him just sleep it off.
Around 3am I told everyone to sleep since his body had processed most of the alcohol, and by morning everyone was feeling much better. Clearer heads started to discuss what had happened over a nice hot breakfast. But just as the orders for eggs were being taken, the oil suddenly caught fire!
Most of the group ran to other side of the room. One person started to pick up the hose at the kitchen sink. “NO!” I yelled as I picked up the pan’s lid. Turning off the burner, I dropped the lid squarely on the pan and walked away calmly.
The others stared in disbelief. “How did you know to do that?”
“Boy Scouts.” I then explained that turning water on an oil fire would have spread it throughout the entire kitchen. An oil fire needs to be deprived of heat and oxygen.
As good as it was to meet the immediate crises to physical health and kitchen, we still had a friend who was severely depressed and needed our undivided attention. Sometimes a crisis requires special knowledge. Sometimes good reflexes. In any case, study, practice, and support is vital to meeting the challenge when the occasion arises.
Training, knowledge and reflexes are just three measures of capacity. Capacity has to do with the resources and the ability to meet a goal or challenge. Other measures may include relationships, finances and organizational systems.
The important thing about any crisis is to know your capacity in a given moment and use it well. I have had the chance to help many people through a variety of problems. When the problems get bigger and more complicated, other people need to be involved. Then the whole group or organization needs to evaluate its capacity afresh.
Someone with a severe mental or emotional diagnosis needs to see a medical professional, just as much as someone having a severe heart attack. I have known many people with diagnoses such as Schizophrenia, Disociative Identity Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. What all of these people have in common is that they need to see someone who can provide the medical and psychological care needed. Our best duty is to guide them to find this higher level of care, and fall into a supportive role.
Still, professional help is only the tip of the iceberg, as many other needs must be met to support daily life. Fortunately, most situations are not so severe. But when people take on situations beyond their own capacity, the outcome is deeply mixed at best.
Everyone can do something. The most important resource we have is the community surrounding us whether at work or school, church or neighborhood. Community is a precious resource which requires time to build it up before the crisis hits. A genuine investment must be made to reach out.
For every one of us, there is a next step. We should know our capacity and use it well. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is here to be a support to you. We want to increase your capacity to help you and your loved one who may be living with mental illness. I hope you will join us for one of our meetings soon.