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What's a Crisis?

A crisis can occur anywhere, at any time, to anyone. It can be caused by an external event or internal conflict. It can be the result of a mental illness, stress, or tragedy. It can be triggered by finances, relationships, expectations, productivity, perceptions, and the unknown.


A crisis isn’t always a total meltdown; it can simply be a moment of feeling overwhelmed with nowhere to turn. In the interest of continuity, let’s establish a working definition to use moving forward. Here are a couple of expert definitions.

“…an upset in equilibrium at the failure of one’s traditional problem-solving approach which results in disorganization, hopelessness, sadness, confusion, and panic.” (Lillibridge and Klukken, 1978)
“…crisis is a perception or experience of an event or situation as an intolerable difficulty that exceeds the person’s current resources and coping mechanisms.” (James and Gilliland, 2001)

In other words, a crisis occurs when a person’s coping mechanisms become overwhelmed, causing an internal system breakdown. By definition, the person has run out of coping mechanisms and needs help to regain their balance.


So, what's the solution to a crisis? That depends. It depends on the situation, the time of day, the person (or persons) involved, location, and the environment around us. There is never one absolute answer because people are unpredictable. Therefore, your best option is to evaluate each situation with the information you have, coupled with your training and experience, to produce the safest outcome.


We all experience crises in our lives. Some of us regularly work with people in crisis, but all of us have or will personally experience a crisis. What do you do to help minimize the effects of a crisis, and how do you help someone else experiencing an overload?


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