Just about every family has someone who struggles, finds it difficult to function at times, or is maybe just more of a free spirit. Sometimes, however, these members of our nearest and dearest are dealing with severe mental health issues. If you have a loved one who you believe may need mental health treatment, there are things you can do to try and help them get support.
Family and friends are first responders.
You should see yourself as a type of first responder for your loved one. Teachers, employers and even medical professionals that interact with your loved one are not likely to do anything to intervene if it appears they need mental health treatment. As their friend or family member, you are their first line for help.
The importance of early intervention.
Early intervention is key to improving your loved one’s quality of life. The longer a mental illness goes untreated, the shorter the intervals between the troubling episodes and behaviour that has drawn your concern. As the intervals shorten, the relapses increase in severity; and as their mental illness becomes more severe, the more resistant it will be to treatment. Intervening as early as possible will change the course of your loved one’s life, putting them on a positive trajectory.
Talking to your loved one
Prepare your loved one for this conversation by letting them know that you want to talk. Let them know it is because you love then and that the topic is crucial. Make sure they know it is nothing harmful or scary. Set a date and a time, and choose a neutral location where they will be most comfortable.
Keep the conversation in the context of your relationship with this person. Make sure they know you are not rejecting or judging them, but that you love them and are concerned. Don’t attempt a diagnosis, such as ‘I think you are bipolar”; leave the diagnosis to the professionals. Talk about your feelings and be specific when you are describing concerning behaviour. Instead of vague statements like ‘you need help’, or ‘you are acting strangely’, give specific examples. ‘It frightened me when you were shouting the other day”, or ‘You missed work four times in the last two weeks and this concerns me’.
The goal of the talk
Your goal in talking to your loved one should be for them to get an evaluation and on-going support. Offer to make the appointment, to pay for it, and drive them.
Talking to someone you love about seeking mental health treatment is difficult and awkward, but it is essential. Be prepared for them to have an angry response, and if they do, maintain your composure and stick to the theme of your love and concern. It may take multiple attempts to get your loved one to seek help. Don’t be nagging or harassing, but do be persistent.