RESOURCES FOR MENTAL HEALTH
By now, if you’ve been following along with the first 3 Modules, you might feel ready and willing to help a peer in need. You might even feel equipped to ask your peer how they’re doing and listen with an empathetic ear. So what if one of your peers does share something about their struggles and asks you for help – what then? In this module, we’ll explore what you can offer to support your fellow crew member while maintaining awareness of your own limits.
STRESS MANAGEMENT AND COPING TECHNIQUES
When someone reaches out for help, they often have a concern they aren’t able to resolve on their own. If the issue is entirely a practical one, it’s a good time to put your heads together to problem-solve solutions. In cases where the concern is accompanied by emotional distress, something more is needed. Jumping straight to problem-solving can leave your peer feeling dismissed or invalidated. A good place to start instead is with the active listening skills from Module 3.
Once you have a good handle on your peer’s concern and you have communicated your understanding back to them, a next step could be to engage in some simple stress management techniques. When someone is in emotional distress, they often don’t have access to their usual coping mechanisms. The strategies they have previously learned for bouncing back from challenges are still there but are unavailable at the moment. Supporting your crew member with stress management techniques can help them regain access to other coping mechanisms.
A simple example of this is to offer your peer: “Would you like to take a few breaths with me?” When someone is undergoing stress, their breathing often becomes rapid and shallow. By slowing and deepening the breath, especially taking longer exhalations, we can reduce the activity of our “fight or flight” stress response and activate the “rest and digest” response that is associated with relaxation. Bonus points if you can hum or sing with your peer since this both helps to regulate breathing and establishes a sense of safety through social connection. Of course, it might be a little harder to convince your peer (or yourself) to sing in the moment! Even if it might be effective, this is a good time to remember that any offers to help should be invitations rather than instructions: your peer best knows what they need and what they are comfortable with.
Another quick, in-the-moment coping strategy to try is a grounding technique. You can ask your peer if they would like to ground with you. Grounding is a way to lower distress by bringing our attention to something other than our distressful emotions. It could involve coming back to our bodies - rather than staying caught up in distressing thoughts - or anchoring ourselves to the world around us. In its simplest form, grounding can involve feeling our feet on the floor (the “ground”) and paying attention to that sensation. We may feel the floor press against us or we may notice tingling, pulses, or other sensations in our feet. This type of grounding brings our awareness to our body and reminds us that we are supported by the earth. Another simple grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. For this, you could ask your fellow crew member to notice 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell, and 1 thing they can taste (or can imagine tasting). This may help your peer reconnect to their senses and orient to the space around them.
YOUR EAP/MAP PROVIDER AND COUNSELLING SUPPORT
Through your discussion with your peer, you may have heard them speak about issues that are more complex or sensitive than you feel suited to deal with. For example, they may have shared about the conflict in their personal relationships, current financial troubles, or problematic substance use. There is a wide range of topics or emotions that someone may share with you, but that doesn’t mean you need to be an expert in those areas. Your role when helping a troubled peer is to express care through empathy and then offer supportive resources. These resources could be within your workplace, through your union, or through your broader community. Examples include your manager, your EAP/MAP (Employee or Member Assistance Program) provider, or a community crisis line.
If you choose to suggest your EAP/MAP provider as a resource, it’s helpful to know a bit about what your peer can expect if they call. You can even offer to make the call along with your peer in case they seem reluctant. When you or your peer calls the number for your EAP provider, your call will be warmly answered by an intake counsellor. The intake counsellor’s role is to provide empathetic support while simultaneously assessing what the main concern is and whether anyone’s safety is at risk. Through this assessment, the counsellor can recommend what resources may be best suited to support the person in need.
If this sounds familiar to how we’ve described your role as peer support, that’s because these helping approaches overlap! The difference is that intake counsellors have professional training in communication skills and risk assessment, so they may be able to support more complex or urgent issues. Another big difference is that intake counsellors are able to make referrals directly to service providers, such as clinical counsellors, legal or financial consultants. They may also be more familiar with community resources to help point you in the right direction.
To summarize, when you and your peer call the EAP provide line, you can expect immediate support for emotional distress as well as a potential referral to a counsellor or other professional who can provide the next level of support.
COUNSELLING, CRISIS LINES, AND OTHER SUPPORTS
In some cases, a fellow crew member might not be ready to make a decision about the next step towards support. This is completely understandable because it is especially hard to make decisions when we’re in distress. As a helper, sometimes it is best to leave your fellow crew member with options they can take away and consider.
Through your EAP/MAP provider or extended benefits, one option for your peer is to access counselling services. Counselling entails working with a professional to explore challenging situations or emotions. There are many counselling theories and modalities, but at its core, counselling involves speaking with a compassionate person who can help you expand your awareness of both your internal landscape and external environment. Counsellors may help their clients identify and process emotions, build skills for better functioning or develop new coping strategies.
A related type of mental health support is crisis support. When a person is in crisis there is a sense of urgency to their problem. They aren’t able to cope or solve the problem on their own given their current level of emotional distress. Crisis support differs from counselling in that it is specifically focused on the “here and now” and its primary goal is to de-escalate current emotional distress. There also tends to be a greater focus on safety assessment and planning due to the urgent nature of the distress. Recommending a local crisis line or suicide line is appropriate when your peer seems to be having trouble calming themselves or describes times when they feel so alone they don’t know who to turn to. It is important to note that if you think there is an imminent risk to a peer’s physical safety, you or your peer should call 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.
There are many other supports available in the community. Peer- or volunteer-led community meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, and SMART Recovery can help people affected by problematic substance use. Battered women’s support services, rape crisis centres, and victim services can help support victims of abuse, sexual assault, and crime. Queer and trans-inclusive services have specific support and considerations in place for members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. BIPOC networks and organizations support those who identify as black, indigenous and people of colour. There are many more resources available that might help. If you or your peers are unsure of whether a certain community resource can help, give the organization a call to learn more.
To learn more about mental health resources available to you and your peers, check out the Calltime Resources page at: https://www.calltimementalhealth.com/looking-for-help.