What Help Looks Like: 3 Steps to Compassionate Intervention

Young teen pats arm of other teen who is hiding faceI dislike geese. Intensely. They poop on the sidewalks and chase me if I get even remotely close to their nests. Geese are everywhere.

Angry geese scare me. They’re big, fast, and they bite. But no creature should be left to die alone in pain. So when I heard about a goose who was suffering in a library parking lot, its wing mangled by a dog, I immediately called my friend Jen.

Jen is an animal-in-need rescuer. She has unending compassion for hurting animals, even for an angry goose. She went to the library parking lot and, after an hour and a half of goose wrangling, she and a co-rescuer corralled the injured bird into a carrier and took it to a wildlife clinic.

Jen’s work with animals is a tangible example of active compassion. She doesn’t just talk about loving and caring about animals. She puts her love into action, even if it means chasing a frightened goose for an hour and a half and then getting goose poop in her car.

There are some instances where feeling compassionate is common and easy. We feel compassionate when we see images of starving children on the other side of the world. We feel compassionate when we hear about people who perished in a plane crash. These people’s needs and their struggles are clear, and it is easy to feel sympathy for them. There is no judgment, secrecy, or shame. But it is less common to notice and care about those with mental health conditions.

Mental health issues are often wrongly shrouded in shame and embarrassment. People hide what is happening inside of them. The very thing that seeks understanding and treatment is also the one that hides under the mask of fear.

People hide what is happening inside of them. The very thing that seeks understanding and treatment is also the one that hides under the mask of fear.

People with depression may put on a happy face when others are around, crying only when they are alone. Your friend with anxiety may express convincing reasons why they can’t attend your housewarming party. If someone has bipolar, they may get through the days and weeks of severe mood changes by laughing it off as having a great day and being enthusiastic rather than being manic or depressed. People who have eating disorders can hide their binging and purging and starving in myriad ways.

Individuals who have mental health issues should not feel the need to hide their struggles. The people who are in their lives—spouses, friends, family members, teachers, coaches, and other caring people—can make a difference by helping. But it can be difficult to know where to start.

There are three steps to taking compassion from a cerebral notion to a real and tangible action. Time and time again, I have witnessed them take place when someone helps someone (or something) else.

  1. Be aware. If you see signs that someone may be wrestling with a mental health issue, pay attention. You may notice behaviors that are different or out of the ordinary. You may even just have a gut feeling. Don’t ignore it.
  2. Be kind. When you become concerned about someone, treat that person with respect and dignity. Don’t patronize them or lecture them on what they need to do. Listen and show you care.
  3. Be bold. Take action, whether this means getting an injured goose help or telling someone you’re worried they seem sad or depressed. Ask if they need anything. Don’t ignore the issue and pretend everything is okay.

We often shy away from asking personal questions of others when we see signs of distress, but the potential benefit of asking someone how they’re truly and honestly doing outweighs the potential consequences.

When you say to someone, “I care about you and I’m worried,” it can be powerful. The worst that can happen is you’re told to mind your own business. The best that can happen is you save a life. There are people who have been on the verge of suicide who didn’t go through with it because one person asked if they were okay or told them they cared. You may be that person someday.

So be aware, be kind, and be bold. You may be surprised at how one small action can forever change a person, who may go on to help another person, who helps yet another.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • frannie

    frannie

    June 6th, 2016 at 9:34 AM

    Being bold can be a scary thing. You think that you are at risk of losing a friend if you are and they are not ready to hear what you have to say.

  • Max

    Max

    June 6th, 2016 at 3:26 PM

    I have seen it happen a lot of times where you try to confront someone for their own safety but then you get so mad that you wind up losing it with them. I would like to know what good we think that this will do. If someone is already hurting it is going to make them feel even worse knowing that their behavior is hurting you too, and turning that anger on them is definitely not going to lead to anything positive. Check your own reactions at the door and think about the ways that you can help this person right now in the moment.

  • Tess

    Tess

    June 7th, 2016 at 9:39 AM

    I am always so afraid that I am going to step on someone’s toes that I tend to hang back and let another person make the first move.

  • riley C

    riley C

    June 9th, 2016 at 1:56 PM

    This is something that has to be done with love and compassion in mind.
    I think that people often screw up these confrontations because they come in like wildfire and make someone feel even worse than they already did. Most of the time when you are confronting someone over an issue, don’t you think that they already know that there is a problem? They need someone who can help and support them not scream and yell at them about how badly they are doing in life.
    Be kind
    Wouldn’t you want someone who would at least do that for you?

  • Greyson

    Greyson

    June 13th, 2016 at 3:38 PM

    My thoughts are to remember to actually be compassionate. This is not going to be easy for you as the confronter nor for the person being confronted. Never an easy situation no matter how you look at it, but it can be easier if everyone can maintain that love that you are doing this for.

  • Marylie

    Marylie

    July 28th, 2017 at 7:36 AM

    I see the word “confront” in a lot of peoples’ comments. Sometimes a person may in need of immediate “corraling” like the injured goose, but many times the urgency is in our own minds, coming from our own anxiety. Being gentle and supportive, with listening and patience, may be most helpful in the long run. If a person isn’t actively suicidal, “planting seeds” and lending a compassionate ear can go far.

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