Why do people help in a crisis, then disappear after the crisis has passed?

Okay, so, I’m in my late forties, female, and I had a heart attack in December. In the hospital for a week, I won’t bore you with all the details; but it was not heart disease, it was stress-related. I was sent home with instructions to “reduce the stress” in my life, to hopefully prevent it from happening again.

While I was in the hospital, and for a few weeks of recovery time afterwards, I was amazed at the outpouring of flowers, phone calls, cards, and visits, as well as numerous offers to cook meals, pick up groceries, etc. This came from family, friends and co-workers.

But it’s now a few months later, I’m still majorly stressed, and all the help vanished. I still NEED the help, and I’m scared and lonely, but everyone seems to have just moved on with their lives. I’m sure if I asked for help, I would get it, but I feel like no one cares since the crisis has passed and life has moved on.

I noticed the same thing when I had my children; everyone wanted to come to the hospital, and then the week I returned home, it was a revolving door of visitors, even though I needed rest, not to entertain while simultaneously breastfeeding. Then everyone disappeared at the time I REALLY needed help (a month or two later, sleep-deprived and exhausted - THAT’S when I needed someone to come over and cook and play with the baby so I could sleep).

I realize that people get back to their own lives - but I feel very alone. Do they assume I’m just fine if I don’t ask? Am I supposed to ask? Recently, thousands of people were all contributing to help Haiti after the earthquake, but the people in New Orleans are still suffering from the effects of Katrina. Who remembers them?

Friends are good for about two to four weeks and then most ignore you. They’ve moved on regardless that your still sick. I’ve been there. There are variations to this but that’s about it in a nut shell. Ask for help if you need it, because I’m sure they’re clueless to what you need help with or that you still might need their help at all.

Make an effort to get out of the house if your not doing that, and get out to the local places people are at. You can interact with the people you meet there and it does help even if they’re not intimate friends. You soon will have some new friends if you put any effort into it. Don’t be a bitter pill. I know it’s hard not to when your sick, but you get back what you put out.

There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. People do have lives, and they’re not mind readers. I would bet that many friends and family members just don’t know you’re still in need, and would be horrified to think they’re letting you down. But they can’t know unless you ask.

It might do some good to ask specific people for specific things they can do for you instead of a generic call for help. Get your best bud over and make a plan. Who could help you grocery shop once a week, etc. If someone can’t do x, maybe they can do y.

It’s more about getting the job done than an emotionally laden pass/fail of friendship. Again, IMO.

I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time…

Mostly it seems I need to talk - about being scared, about feeling helpless, about feeling like my body let me down, about trying to figure out how to “deal”. I did start seeing a therapist to figure out how to reduce stress in my life (I joke about selling my kids), but we’re still in the “getting to know you” stages, no real work has occurred yet.

But I don’t understand how people just move on to the next crisis du jour - I gave the example of natural disasters - the Tsunami several years ago (I forget where it was), then Hurricane Katrina, then Haiti, then Chile’s earthquake/tsunamis, now the LA earthquake; and whatever disaster is next. Do we really have such short attention spans?

Bolding mine.
Banda Aceh, Indonesia.


No, I’m just kidding. Yes, I would say that for many people, “crisis du jour” about sums it up for natural, large-scale disasters. It’s just hard to fold so much catastrophe into your comprehension and still go about your daily life.

In one’s personal life, though, I think people will show more stamina if you ask for concrete assistance. Talking to a therapist is a great way to find space for a tricky need that your friends and family can’t necessarily meet without their own concern for you getting in the way. You’re not the only one coping with your close call - I’m sure it shook people up - but the first defense mechanism for most everyone is denial.

In re natural disasters. Some people dive right in, some people provide longer-term assistance, and some people switch the channel. There’s a local couple here who packed up their plane with supplies and did multiple flights to Haiti. Folks from our local search and rescue/sheriff’s office spent months in New Orleans. My former co-worker got a 3 month leave and went up to UW to do hard core GIS data crunching after the huge Indonesian tsunami to provide documentation of land and habitat loss for aid. So there’s hope for humanity :slight_smile:

I know I run the risk of sounding incredibly cold with this but… Yeah, I think we kinda do have short attention spans when it comes to things like this. People have a tendency to a reach a level of “tragedy or crisis overload”, where things go from being an immediate concern to to kind of being background noise. This is generally seen more in national crises, (earthquakes, flooding, tsunamis, etc…) But it definitely applies to personal situations as well. Your friends and acquaintances see you in an important situation and they want to help, it’s a natural reaction, but eventually they move on and try to re-orient themselves. It’s not that they don’t care, because I think they do, but it becomes a matter of re-stabilizing after a big change.

In my own life I’ve often been in the position of the “helper” in crisis situations and eventually I always feel the need to back away and allow my friends to re-orient themselves into a new routine. I still care about them though and stay active in their lives. I would re-iterate Alpine’s advice in asking for specific help in such situations. If a friend of mine came to me and said their wit’s end and need help… Frankly, I wouldn’t know what to do with that. But if someone comes to me and says they need me to take them to the store or they need me to babysit for an afternoon, that’s something that’s tangible and easily considerable, and I’d probably do it.

You said you don’t remember where the tsunami happened, LOUNE points out it was in Indonesia. That’s kind of the “burnout” I’m talking about. People still care about things like that, but it becomes a matter of what can we do that is tangible?

I could be wrong, but I wager at least half a dozen of those helpful people, who were cluttering up the place, in the beginning didn’t leave your side before extracting a promise that you would “let them know if there is anything at all that you need.”

Here’s the thing, those people were being sincere. They have fallen off the radar because you haven’t contacted them and they assume you’re doing okay. People are just people, after all. They don’t want to impose, much like you’ve implied they did in the beginning. They don’t want to get in the way, or bring you down, or interrupt your routines, or step on anyone else’s toes.

How, exactly do you expect them to know you need help? How are they to know your best friend or brother or some such isn’t doing for you, the things you need?

Pick up a phone and talk to someone, would ya? It’s not that hard a thing to do. Remember your friend’s meant what they said. Perhaps you’ve said these very words to someone at some time. At a funeral maybe. Didn’t you mean them? If they called you, weeks, even months later, wouldn’t you have been there for them? Wouldn’t you have been glad that they called you? That they believed you to be sincere?

Have a little faith in the people who love you and give them a chance to act on their words. People are always looking for ways to help the people they love. Give them the chance.
Please. Pick. Up. The. Phone.

Well, I do know Marriedbro and his wife have their arms full, with two little kids. I also know that they don’t want my help if they can avoid getting it, so yeah, when they want it they have to say so.

While other people’s friends and families haven’t received “you’re not wanted” signs as big as the placard I got handed, people are afraid of intruding (this is specially strong in individualistic cultures like the US), so again, anybody who needs help has to ask for it.

I think the other posters have got it right, and that you really need to reach out in specific ways for what you want and need. People are going to assume that what you want most is to have your life go back to being as normal as possible, unless you tell them otherwise. As a friend of yours, I would not think that what you wanted was for me to be constantly reminding you that you’ve gone through this horrifying and traumatic event. And I’m saying that’s how I would see it – I’m not suggesting that you would or should see it that way. I just wouldn’t want to be a pest.

So treat your friends as if they have no idea how to handle someone that’s been through what you’ve gone through (because they probably don’t). So start by giving just one person a ring and let them know you’re still struggling with x or y or z, or all of the above, and ask if there’s any way they’d be willing to give you a hand or a break. If your friends all know each other, maybe the word gets around pretty quickly, and before you know it, perhaps all of your friends are checking in with you again. Just let them know that now is really when you need them the most.

There’s definitely a human tendency to move on with your life if the crisis if it is not happening to you directly. I think on some level it’s an expression of relief that something bad is happening to someone else and not you, as if sticking around too long would tempt fate. But that being said, I agree with the other posters here: if you tell your friends you need a hand I’m sure they will help out. It’s hard to know how much help a friend wants and nobody wants to patronize.

I’ve been there, as I have a couple of chronic illnesses.

I also studied the psychology of how people react to crisis. Interestingly, it seems that in order to function in their daily lives, people need to have a certain amount of denial about the fact that bad things happen to good people. People are particularly in denial about the reality that bad things happen to good people and can’t be fixed right away (or ever). To function, we need to believe people get what they deserve.

Being around loved ones who have chronic problems is scary. It makes people think about how something similar could happen to them. This is why they flee after a few weeks. They have to believe you can get better right away, or it’s too scary to face it.

Another thing that happens is that some (more evolved) people will want to help, but will be sensitive to the possibility that they might offend or annoy you by offering–or worse, that they might upset you by bringing it up. I have found that you can ask for what you want, to a certain extent. However, the sad truth is, if your problem lasts for months or years, you have to be careful to ask only occasionally. If you ask repeatedly, your friends start to label you as a total bummer.

I had to lean on my mom a lot during my crisis periods, because she was the only one who couldn’t say no. For other things, I rotated asking for favors from various sisters and friends. I also made it a point to be upbeat and talk about fun, frivolous things so they wouldn’t think of me as Debbie Downer.

I wish you the best of luck. It is not easy to go through a long-term illness, but you are relatively young, and the odds are in your favor that things will get better.

In my case, and having grown up with a chronically sick mother, another factor is “what” are people asking for help for and “how”.

Asking me to get the big cooking pot out, fill it up and set it to boil? Of course, she’s not supposed to lift that kind of weight.
Demanding that I pass her the TV remote that’s half an inch too far, because once more she’s forgotten to grab it before sitting down, and having yelled her lungs out until I got out of the shower? That was the time I told her to “get off your ass for once” and stopped running when she yells for me.

True…And it’s no harder for them to pick up a phone and talk to ME. If they called me or emailed me and said, “Hey, how are you doing?”, I would either say, “I’m doing great, how are you?” or I would say, “Not well, I’m struggling.” But, not ONE person has contacted me or asked me how I am since I went back to work in January.

I think those words are along the lines of “The check is in the mail” or “I’ll call you.” It’s what you say to be polite.

See, nobody is LOOKING for ways to help - if they were, I’d be getting an occcasional card, email or call. I’m the one who has to beg them to help me.

sigh I know you are right, please forgive my negative attitude. I am so tired, exhausted and depressed, having to face calling a bunch of people and beg them for help is just more than I can bear right now. But I started the thread because my impression of this situation is that I was just getting lip service from a bunch of people who really just don’t care; and I wanted to see if maybe I was wrong, that it is just human nature to disappear like this.

The one way to ensure you don’t get help is to believe that they will keep coming back when you discuss your problems every time. They don’t want to hear details very often. The response to how are you doing is “About the same.” or similar short none specific replies. Find a different place other than the people you ask to help to discuss problems with. Being pleasant around them is a must if you want help.

I’ve spent the past five weeks with a cast on my arm. NOTHING makes me feel worse than people offering me help I didn’t ask for. I’m not an invalid and I haven’t lost any IQ points. If I need help I will ask for it. If I don’t, leave me alone.

Communication is a two-way street; have *you *called any of them? And a lot of people are probably assuming that if you wanted to talk about it, you would–plenty of people in your situation just want to put everything behind them and are royally sick of people asking how they are.

They haven’t abandoned you. They’re waiting for you to call. You know all those “Call me if you need anything”-s? If they’re your friends, and you trust them, they were sincere.

They know that we are ultimately alone with our problems, and must indeed learn to “deal” by ourselves.

That doesn’t mean that they don’t care, so pick up the damn phone and stop kvetching on the SDMB.

You’re back to work. Most people figure if you’re back to work, you’re okay. And frankly, for many people, being asked to listen while you talk about how you feel if far more difficult than lending a hand with grocery shopping or walking your dog.

As for attention span - you’ve got person who is bleeding to death, and someone next to them with a headache. Which one is supposed to get the help? We live in a triage world, pasting Band-aids on one disaster so we can move on to the next. We can’t really do any better than that. Most people are glad enough to be doing well enough in their lives to be able to give a little aid when it’s needed. They can’t give up family, jobs, pets to devote themselves to people they don’t know.


The earthquake was off the coast of Indonesia, and Sumatra suffered the worst damage, but the tsunami also killed many, many people - up to a third of a million in total - in other parts of Indonesia, as well as Thailand, Malaysia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, the Seychelles, Tanzania, Somalia and Kenya.

While the other disasters, particularly Haiti, are of similar human scale, the geographical enormity of the tsunami is unparallelled in history. Not remembering even vaguely where the vastness of such a disaster occurred does seem a little “burned out”, indeed.

That said, on a personal scale I do get what the OP is talking about. And just talking to your friends about it will let you know that the crisis is not over - or that it has changed - and support is still needed.