When you love a person with a mental illness, you either make yourself learn advanced communication skills ... or you sit in a corner and talk to yourself. One of the most challenging skills is dealing with hysteria.
Good old-fashioned hysteria seems to have slipped away from the diagnostic criteria. But you know it when you see it.
When you are in the midst of dealing with it, remember one thing: Your goal is to calm the person down, not to solve the problem that caused the meltdown. There's something about being in the company of a person who is crying uncontrollably that makes me forget that. I just want to fix it. And I have plenty of strategies to suggest. Amazingly this isn't useful.
I haven't been able to find much advice about what to do, particularly when the person on the telephone and not standing in front of you. But these basic emergency communications guidelines apply:
1. Stay calm.
2. Be accepting and listen. Don't argue.
3. Recognize agitation and allow the person to escape to a safe place.
4. Be brief.
5. Make clear, specific and firm demands: "Put down the knife."
6. Take a break if you need it. Call for help if either of you need it.
7. Do something physical if you can. Getting the person to drink water or hot tea can calm things down.
You have my permission to do all these things imperfectly when under pressure. It's the No. 1 rule of caregiving: Do the best you can, and don't feel guilty about what you can't do.