Talking about Mental Health

Talking about your mental health struggles is difficult; you don’t know how others will react to your needs. But how do you talk to someone else about possibly seeking help when they are in complete denial?

It is probably one of the most difficult problems out there. As a therapist working with adults, I run into this issue often. I have parents, friends, siblings reaching out to seek treatment for their loved ones but the issue is that as adults, they have that right to decide whether or not they want the help.

There are helpful steps you can take when someone else is coming to you to seek support:

Listening without judgment, provide reassurance, encourage them to seek treatment while staying within your limits are to just name a few.  Your loved ones are most likely aware of their symptoms and also may already be receiving services that encouraged them to build a strong support system. The issue is when someone feels that they don’t have a problem or they are “too strong” to need any outside assistance.

I would like to share a brief detail of an interaction with a parent I had. The family was noticing how the client was spiraling down. This was a bright person with amazing grades, ambitious, social- a very well-rounded individual; somehow, over the few years in college, this client was recommended to take some time off due to the difficulty he/she was experiencing.  Once the client moved back home to comply with the recommendation, he/she sought professional help with a psychiatrist but was not open to receiving counseling outside of what he/she had received in an inpatient treatment facility.

I could hear the desperation in the parent’s voice.  Though their child was spiraling, he/she was still functioning well enough to make decisions- especially related to outpatient counseling. We cannot force someone to seek treatment if they are not ready.

But there are few supportive steps that you can still take.

  1.     Talk to them about what you observed.
  •      Remain calm and share your concerns. It is possible that they will feel defensive and perhaps become argumentative, but both of you cannot react to the situation.
  1.     Discuss your observation with a service provider.
  •      If they are not working with a mental health professional already, discuss the symptoms with the primary care physician. Sometimes we dismiss our family because – oh you know, they are family. Coming from a professional may hold more weight but please be mindful that you don’t “surprise” the loved one into becoming super defensive and diminish any chance of having an actual conversation about receiving any help. As professionals, we have to respect our client’s decision and support their rights.
  1.     Treat them with kindness and respect.
  •      Individuals struggling with mental health issues are already feeling vulnerable, ashamed, and at times, attacked. Remember that mental illness is only a part of them, not all who they are. They are individuals and deserve your compassion and support.
  1.     Look for mental health support together.
  •      Whether the illness is physical or mental health related, it impacts the whole family.  If the loved one is open to it, research local treatment providers together. As they are learning how to navigate their emotions and behaviors, you are also learning how to support them as well as your own feelings.

You started as a family and continue to support each other as a family.  And as always, reach out if you feel the need to seek services to work through your emotions before talking to someone about their mental health struggles.  That could be something that helps you with keeping your family together.

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