When someone you know becomes dangerously emotionally distressed, it's critical that he receives the proper attention needed for him to "deescalate." "Deescalation" is the process of calming down, or bringing down, a person from a heightened state of rage, panic, depression or mania so that he can once again think clearly. Once someone becomes so emotionally distressed that he's dangerous to himself or others, you must get him professional help and attempt to calm him in a safe manner.
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Approach him slowly. Don't make sudden movements or rush over to him; otherwise, your actions may be interpreted as a threat. Creep slowly toward him, making sure he can see you.
Wear a calm facial expression. According to the "PEAK Development Resources for Nursing Assistants," it's important to effect a calm demeanour so that the person doesn't become more excited and potentially combative. Excitement and anxiety can be contagious, so if you give the impression that you're hyped up, the person in distress may become more excited.
Use a calm, low voice when you speak. Your voice and tone should sound soothing, yet stern and attentive. Again, if the person in distress senses that you're wound-up, he won't be able to calm down.
Maintain eye contact. Try to get him to lock eyes with you, which can help him understand that you care about him and what he's going through. Hold eye contact without staring aggressively, which is intimidating.
Don't plant yourself in front of him. He may interpret this as a threat or challenge, and act out violently toward you. Instead, keep a safe distance and position yourself at an angle, which is less intimidating/threatening.
Say something supportive. Begin by using his name. For example, "Johnny, I understand how upset you must feel right now." Your goal is to try to calm him down by having a conversation and encouraging him to open up and see reason.
Respond to him calmly if he engages in a conversation. Avoid arguing with what he tells you. If he makes wild accusations or says things that are untrue, don't belittle him by telling him he's wrong. Instead, offer solutions and help.
Don't threaten him by saying you're going to call the police or tell his family about this incident. This will agitate him more, and your goal is to minimise the chances of triggering a dangerous response.
Remind him of the great things in his life. Talk about positive things; help him to realise why he needs to deescalate and seek help.
Comfort him once he's calmed down. After such an emotional experience, he may begin weeping and feel overwhelmed with guilt and fear. Be supportive, but continue to maintain your calm demeanour.
Tips and warnings
- You must always assess a situation for danger. If an emotionally distressed person is waving a loaded firearm, don't attempt to approach him or calm him down. There are times when the most appropriate action is to call the police to handle the situation.
- In inpatient-facility settings, use chemical and physical restraints as a last resort.
- If someone emotionally distressed is making suicidal or homicidal threats, don't hesitate to get him professional help. Always take threats seriously.
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