Just about every family has a “black sheep”; someone who just doesn’t quite fit in. They might be always causing trouble or maybe more of a free spirit. In some cases, the “black sheep” of the family is someone with an untreated mental health issue. If you have a loved one who you believe may need mental health treatment, there are things you can do to try and encourage them to seek help.
Family and Friends are First Responders
You should see yourself as a type of “first responder” or first line of support for your loved one. Teachers, employers and even medical professionals that interact with your loved one aren’t as likely to see the need mental health treatment as a close friend or family member who sees them more frequently. You are in the best position to see the need and advocate for them to get help.
The Importance of Early Intervention
Early intervention is key to improving your loved one’s quality of life as quickly and easily as possible. The longer a mental illness goes untreated, the more entrenched the patterns become and the more hopeless your loved one may feel that change is possible. 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 are concerned and want to talk. Let them know you are motivated by love and that it is very important. Make sure they know you are not upset with them and it’s nothing negative or scary. Set a date and time to talk and choose a neutral location where they will be most comfortable.
Keep the conversation in the context of your relationship. Make sure they know that you love them and are concerned, not rejecting or judging them. Tell them what specific concerns you have about their behavior and how it makes you feel. Instead of vague statements like “you need help”, or “you’re acting strange” give specific examples, like “it frightened me when you were yelling the other day,” or “I’m concerned because you missed work four times in the last two weeks.” Leave diagnoses to the professionals, just tell them what you are seeing and how it is concerning you.
The Goal of the Talk
Your goal in talking to your loved one is to express your concerns and to ideally get them to agree to a one-time evaluation. Offer to support them in any way that would be helpful and appropriate, like making the appointment, paying for it, and/or driving them.
Talking to someone you love about seeking mental health treatment may feel difficult and awkward, but it is important. Be prepared for them to have an angry or defensive response, and if they do, try to 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 lovingly persistent.