Understanding De-escalation

Photo attribution: Denver Strong Community Resource Guide

Understanding De-escalation, Techniques to Help Neighbors Help Neighbors

Understanding De-escalation is a training provided by DenverStrong.  DenverStrong is a program within the Office of Behavioral Health Strategies designed to educate and empower the Denver community around behavioral health issues. Members of UpDoNA participated in this training and here’s what we learned.

What is De-escalation?

De-escalation is behavior that is intended to prevent conflict and anyone can do it.

 What happens when a person is in an escalated state?

When a person is in an escalated state the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain in charge of our executive functioning skills like self control, planning, and working memory, shuts down.  The amygdala takes over and initiates the Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Faint response. It is important to know that a person in an escalated state is unable to manage themselves.

What is underneath the escalation? What is driving the behavior?

A person can become triggered by something in the current environment that takes them back to a place of trauma. Behaviors can look similar but have different drivers. Don’t assume you know!

Public Safety Issues are 911 calls. If a person is exhibiting behavior that can lead to injury to themselves or others around them, or a person is unconscious and unresponsive

You must decide if you feel safe to initiate contact with an escalated person.

When you decide to initiate contact with an escalated person follow these steps.

Step 1: Assess

Try to determine the driver for the behavior. Are they triggered by something in the environment? Are they threatened by or upset with a person? Could they be triggered by the situation itself?  Could it be a reaction to drug use? Do you feel safe to engage? If the answer is yes, then continue to step 2.

Step 2: Connect

We all possess the instinctual desire to do the exact opposite of what we are being told to do. This is called counter will and we use it to protect ourselves and our relationships. Connection is the key to a successful interaction. People who are upset have a reason. Introduce yourself. Listen and support.

Step 3 Direct

Once you have made a connection, you can ask if they want to talk and try to get them to move away from the location of the trigger situation, and ask what you can do to help. Keep a copy of the Community Resources Guide with you for reference.

De-escalation Techniques

  • Keep your voice calm
  • Avoid overreacting
  • Practice active listening, “what I think I hear you saying…”
  • Don’t argue with the person
  • Express support- acknowledge that the situation is stressful/ hard
  • Validate the person’s feelings
  • Ask how you can help
  • Avoid continuous eye contact (don’t stare)
  • Keep stimulation level low
  • Move slowly- moving quickly can seem threatening
  • Offer options
  • Be patient

De-escalation in Action: A Real World Example

I was the captain on a flight taxiing away from the gate when the flight attendant called and said a first class passenger wouldn’t fasten his seat belt. I stopped the plane, left the cockpit, and went over to the passenger. I knelt down next to him and introduced myself. I asked what was going on. He responded that he had had a really terrible day of people telling him what to do. I listened and expressed that I understood. I explained that my job was to keep him, and everyone on the plane safe and asked if he could put on his seatbelt. He agreed and we were on our way.

-Wes Chowen

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UpDoNA is a City Registered Neighborhood Organization representing the community of Denver’s Upper Downtown.

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