What is a crisis?
In the past, a crisis was typically defined as any situation where human life may be at risk. As our society has grown more complex, the definition of a crisis is now much broader. Generally, a crisis is now known as not only a situation, but a state of being for anyone who perceives his or her problem as needing attention without delay.
As you might imagine, this leaves family and friends in the position of making judgment calls when dealing with students. Because of this, it is vitally important to understand what a crisis or a person in crisis typically presents with. It is also important to know your own limits of expertise and to listen to your ‘gut’ when you feel that you may be in over head.
You can assist people who you feel may be experiencing crisis and refer them to appropriate sources of help. The following information is meant to provide you with some guidance in this process.
What you can do
If a student is in crisis, it can be hard to know how to help. See our tips below for help handling a crisis.
Issues to consider
Avoid making sweeping promises of confidentiality, particularly if a person represents a safety risk to him- or herself or others. Students, faculty or staff who may be a danger to themselves or others need swift professional intervention, and assurances of absolute confidentiality may get in the way.
It is acceptable to stay “in role” as a peer or family member. You do not have to take on the role of counsellor. Your responsibility is to listen, watch and refer.
How to respond
Listen. This will help the person to feel supported, and it will help you decide what should be done.
Decide if the student is in crisis. Ask them if you are not sure. If you feel that you are in over your head or if you are feeling uneasy or afraid, call for help. No professional will ever tell you that you shouldn’t have called for help; let someone with experience handle the situation.
Take the person seriously. No matter how trivial or unimportant the problem may seem to you, it is extremely important to the person “in crisis” and you need to take the problem seriously too.
Keep calm; even if what you are being told or see frightens or upsets you. The person in crisis needs a person who, upon seeing or hearing the problem, does not panic or reach the same emotional state as s/he is in. You must attempt to remain steady, calm, concerned and rational.
Stick with the person. Your physical presence, even if on the phone, and willingness to stay with them when they are vulnerable will have a powerful impact. Keep the person active-talking, walking, anything to keep the person involved in the problem and give you the opportunity to remain engaged with them while getting help.
GET HELP. Do not try to handle the crisis alone. Always call for help: an Instructor, Counsellor, Campus Security, 911 or the Crisis Line.
Avoid interpretation. Crisis intervention is not the time for you to practice lay counselling or to attempt to help the person to solve the cause of the crisis.
Avoid arguing. You should not argue with the person about behaviours s/he may threaten. Doing so will just arouse anger and defensiveness.
Follow up. Your job is only done when the person in crisis is in the care of someone with professional knowledge and expertise. Let them know that you are around if they need you, but don’t ask invasive questions. One person may feel embarrassed and not want to talk with you for a while, while another may feel very comfortable with you and may ask for help in other areas of their life. Be careful to stick within your own personal boundaries.