CPR is well-known as a layperson’s opportunity to help restart someone’s faltering heart. What if there was an Emotional version of CPR for mental health? What can you do when someone around you suffers emotional stress? Can we really help or should we leave all treatment and discussion to trained professionals?
Daniel Fisher, Biochemist and psychiatrist believes emotions are like hearts and can falter and have difficulty restarting themselves. He developed the Emotional CPR program after experiencing a complete breakdown. His wife left him and he was having complications at work. He fell into a catatonic state, became heavily medicated refusing to respond to any medically trained staff despite their best efforts restoring him to good health. Surprisingly, the least formally trained young hospital orderlies started him back on the road to repair. Experiencing a connection through concern in their eyes, he heard care in their voice and felt the kindness in their words. This basic expression of humanity kickstarted his desire to rejoin the world.
Dr Fisher’s program is designed for mental health workers but the principles are so simple and clear they are be applicable to everyone. Summarised into C, P and R there’s a take-home message to all of us.
C is for Connection
According to Emotional CPR, the most important part of an interaction between the sufferer and another person is the connection between them. “Words or gestures demonstrating care or the desire to help say to that person – I’m here”.
2. P is for Empowering
The premise for Emotional CPR is resolution for distress lies within the sufferer. Emotional CPR encourages recovery of that personal power, discouraging the ‘giving away of power’ to external sources (including other people). “Hearing other sufferers speak positively about their recovery has a positive effect, sufferers recognise they too can gain control of their life”. Hope is the constant theme of Emotional CPR.
Stefan Hunt, directed a multi-media mental health festival in Sydney, 2017. He fell into the role borne from his own experiences of anxiety and depression. “There’s this pressure to have everything figured out, my own anxiety just came out of nowhere”. In particular he speaks of social media as something “we’ve all had to adapt to as it evolves. Initially it was all about ‘look at my perfect life’, which didn’t help anybody but in social media vulnerability is really starting to trend, we have to think about how we can use it (social media) for the good (of the world)”.
3. R is for Revitalise
Dr Fisher is a big believer that your life CAN come back to you after periods of mental stress and trauma. He feels his own psychosis was his body’s way of helping him heal, “an opportunity for healing something you’ve been through”. His program teaches the key principles of:
- Being present.
- Listening with eyes, ears AND heart.
- Responding to the person in distress (even if it means shedding a tear or showing your own emotions) is good for the healing process. “It shows the person their life is worth living”.
The Don’t List
- The compulsion to ‘fix’ people with helpful suggestions is a powerful human desire but Dr Fisher says healing comes from with the person rather than from well-intentioned suggestions to ‘go for a walk’ or ‘take yourself shopping’ etc. “Just be with this person and don’t tell them what to do”.
- Appearing as an expert is not always helpful to the person in mental distress. “To say you’re not sure what will be helpful is just fine”. He doesn’t think the sufferer is looking for you to be the expert. It all comes back to the connection between people and care shown as stimulus to the sufferer’s own road to recovery.
Peter Kinderman , a mental health expert (University of Liverpool) is pretty disgusted by the way mental health sufferers are presently treated by the “machinery of treatment” and believes a little more simple humanity and understanding will bridge the gap between mental health objectives and reality of life today.
Dr Kinderman says increases in public discussions, the media and mental health organisations offering assistance is wonderful and a step in the right direction. He especially wants us to supercharge our thinking around causes of mental illness rather than focus on labels or treatments. ” It’s more helpful to say – what is it about our society making young people feel so helpless? And let’s look at solutions. What is it that makes us feel hopeless? ” He’d like us to focus on solutions like these, work, alcohol, drugs, family, marriage pressures or global issues than just apply disease labels to problems. “Disease models suit politicians and vested interests (institutions and pharmaceuticals) but is it the right approach?”
For now, it feels good to know we can help heal each other in very small ways. It’s reassuring to feel small gestures of kindness and sincerity do count towards a loved one believing their life is worth living . Let’s keep the ‘best- solutions discussion’ on the table, it’s a worthy argument and you never know when you might need it yourself.