If you're teaching someone how to canoe or kayak, you might explain the J stroke and feathering, and take some time to practice before you go out on a river or lake. You might go over the importance of wearing a life vest. You'll probably discuss how to move in a canoe to reduce the risk of capsizing, and how to re-right it and get back in if it does capsize. But if they do capsize, will you keep instructing them on the J stroke in that moment? No! You help the right the canoe.
I've been thinking about this and emotional/mental health, because sometimes we see people in our daily lives (or in our social media networks) who are sad, grieving, depressed, anxious, or otherwise in a crisis and we do things like telling them about J strokes and life vests when what they need at the moment is help getting out of the water and maybe a nice warm blanket so that they can dry off. Knowing the J stroke may help keep ya from capsizing your canoe, but it does no good once you're flipped and freezing cold.
It's something I (april) been thinking about after a friend was in crisis recently. I’m trying to weigh my words if I *have* to speak, and weighing if maybe it would be better to just be with the person in silence. Maybe we don't have to speak as much as we think we do. Maybe most of us have the knowledge of the truth that we need, and living it is the problem—or maybe, just maybe, there are bumps in the road from which no amount of knowledge can completely protect us.
So, when choosing what to say or do, let's ask ourselves: am I helping them right their canoe?
If you want to know one way to right a capsized canoe, check out this Boys Life Magazine article.
If you want more information on how to provide Mental Health First Aid, look for trainings on their website. Some areas may offer them for free--Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health used to (and may still) offer classes for free to churches, schools, or other groups that had at least 15 participants.
If you want to learn more about the difference between empathy and trying to fix someone, this short animated video narrrated by Brene Brown is good.