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Family Talk: Look for signs of emotional suffering ... and help

When I was a kid, my cousin accidentally pushed me head first into a large rose bush plant in my backyard. The thorns tore up my face and hands, and I ran into the house a screaming, bloody mess.  

My mom was cool and collected. She wiped my wounds with a wet towel and applied pressure while telling my dad to get ready to take me to the emergency room. A few hours, and a few stitches later, I was back home, thanks to my parents’ help.

Chances are, if someone in your family suffered an accident like this, you would know the signs of suffering and do something about it. A bleeding wound would prompt you to action. But sometimes those around us are suffering without bleeding. They are suffering emotionally, and we have to be alert to the signs and try to help.

In Oklahoma we are 14th in the nation for suicides and 45th in the amount spent on mental health care. That’s like living in a city that leads the nation in house fires but not having much of a fire department. If we are ever going to get mentally healthy, we need to change direction.

Paying attention

There is a new national nonprofit called changedirection.org that is dedicated to teaching us the five signs of emotional suffering. Their goal is to “change the culture of mental health in America so all those in need receive the care and support they deserve.” They want us to pay attention to our emotional well-being, because it’s just as important as our physical well-being.

The organization is also encouraging us to become familiar with the “five signs of emotional suffering:

1. Personality change: When someone starts acting differently than they have traditionally behaved, it’s time to pay attention.

2. Agitation: When someone gets easily irritated, moody or agitated, it’s time to pay attention.

3. Withdrawal: When someone isolates themselves, spending an unusual amount of time alone, it’s time to pay attention.

4. Poor self-care: When someone stops taking care of their appearance, or begins engaging in risky behavior, it’s time to pay attention.

5. Hopelessness: When someone seems overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by their circumstances, it’s time to pay attention.

So, what can you do if you recognize these signs in a family member or friend, without becoming overly intrusive? Change direction.org urges us to “Show compassion and caring and a willingness to find a solution when the person may not have the will or drive to help themselves.” 

Reach out to the person. Engage them in conversation. Encourage them to take advantage of counseling resources in the community. Offer to go with them if they are reluctant to go alone. It might take more than one offer or discussion, but it’s worth a loving, persistent effort.

When I was pushed into that rosebush, I really had no idea how to help myself. I was hurting and disoriented from pain. Luckily, my parents were there to help. There might be someone near you who is feeling that way emotionally. Learn and watch for the five signs of emotional distress. Then get them some help. 

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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