Approaching delicate subjects with friends and loved ones can be awkward. It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s choosing a restaurant, who’s hosting Christmas dinner, or any number of everyday topics that we navigate with others.
But, what happens when we notice a sudden change in mood or someone close to us starts making risky decisions, or begins to question their will to live?
Discussing the mental health of those around us can seem like taboo for sure. Part of the stigma surrounding mental health can include our own comfort levels of approaching the topic, and maybe also questioning our skills or qualifications to even bring it up with others.
Just like physical illness, mental illness can have warning signs and is just as treatable. We can support those who are suffering invisibly the same way we can support those trying to watch their diet. When approaching out of care and concern for the other, while offering appropriate support, we can serve as a catalyst that could result in a changed life – or could even save a life. Being the one to bring up the topic is tough, but the reward can be well worth the risk.
There are books and articles that can help educate you on how to broach the topic, and how to support loved ones long-term.
Here are a few signs and tools that can help with the conversation: (from PsychCentral)
Warning signs that a loved one might need help
These would all include changes from the normal behavior of the person.
- Behavior that scares you, such as a significant temper
- Problems taking care of themselves or regulating their behavior, such as ignoring basic hygiene, engaging in reckless acts or drinking and acting aggressively.
- Problems with thinking, such as becoming disoriented, seeing or hearing things that no one else does or forgetting important facts.
- Intense feelings, such as profound anxiety about leaving the house.
- Problems interacting with others, such as withdrawing from the people they love.
- Inability to work, such as not holding down a job or diminishing grades or effort in school.
- Experiencing trauma, such as abuse or death of a child.
Tools for Approaching During Early Stages
- If you feel they are a danger to themselves or someone else, call 911.
- Let your loved one know that you need to have an important conversation with them. According to the book “You Need Help!: A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling,” by Mark S Komrad M.D, this helps to focus their attention and implies they should take it seriously.
- Pick a good time and place. For instance, avoid talking during family gatherings or when you’re fighting.
- Approach them with empathy. You might say something like “I know this is really hard for you, but I’m talking to you because I love you. If I didn’t care, we wouldn’t be having this talk.”
- Be prepared for the person to be upset – and try not to get defensive.
- Use “I” statements, such as “I’m concerned about you.”
- Ask for a gift – literally. Ask your loved one to give you the gift of seeking help, whether it’s for your anniversary, a holiday or your kids’ birthdays. Here’s an example from Komrad’s book:
“Getting a consultation with a psychiatrist about your mood swings would be the best thing you could do for our little girl’s birthday. It’s better than anything else that you could possibly give her. Please, do it for her. She, more than anyone, needs you to get some direction and proper help, more help than I know how to give you.”
- Facilitate the process by finding a professional and scheduling an appointment. Even if they refuse to go, see the practitioner anyway. Talk to them about helping your loved one. Komrad said that 15 percent of his practice is meeting with clients about their loved ones.
- Offer to pay for the appointment, if possible. A common excuse is that therapy is too pricey.
- Don’t use words like “crazy” or “abnormal.”
-By Ryan Sargent, MSEd, LPC