How do I assist a customer I suspect is experiencing mental illness?

de-escalation supporting customers who are experiencing mental illness

I facilitated five live digital De-escalation workshops last week. A student in one of my sessions spoke up during Q&A:

"I have a question for Ms. Myra Golden. "How would we be able to handle a situation when we know or suspect that customers are experiencing mental illness?"

Learners in my De-escalation Academy ask this question a lot. So often that I recorded an answer in a short video.

If you suspect you're dealing with a person with mental illness, my two-minute video may help.


It can be challenging to serve customers with mental illness. The most important thing is to be respectful, establish a connection, and refocus the customer on the service or products they're purchasing or the problem you're trying to resolve.


Here are five tips to help you appropriately support customers you suspect might have mental illness.

  1. Don't assert your authority as the "person in charge," or the person can refuse to help, "If you don't stop talking to me that way, I will terminate this call/ask you to leave." 
  2. Be careful not to draw attention to your customer. Focus on connecting with your customer, delivering the best possible service, and guiding the person to the next steps. Try not to convey annoyance in your facial expression or body language, and instead, making supporting your customer with equity and professionalism. 
  3. Create a sense of rapport by calling the customer by their name, if you know it, and talk with a friendly, welcoming tone. If you're face-to-face with your customer, make eye contact.
  4. Seek to understand your customer. Treat mental illness like you would approach diversity and inclusion. Be respectful. Listen with the intent to understand the person. 
  5. Be re-assuring. It's essential to have a positive attitude, support your customer and offer reassurance to let them know you're there to help and that you'll work toward a solution or next steps.
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