April 13, 2019
In any given year, one in five adults in the United States — or nearly 44 million Americans — experiences severe anxiety, major depression, bipolar disorder, or some other type of mental illness. No matter what form it takes, mental illness can be seriously disruptive for those it affects, making it hard to stay energized and engaged through day-to-day life.
Research shows that living with a mental illness tends to be more challenging than living with a physical disorder like chronic lower back pain. According to one study, the average person with major depression is at least 50% more disabled than the average person with certain illnesses, such as diabetes and arthritis.
Although treatment can help people with mental illness lead full, productive lives, only about two in five people actually seek help for their problem. What’s even more worrisome than this exceptionally low treatment rate is that those who need help the most are typically the least likely to ask for it on their own.
For some people, a lack of insight or self-awareness stops them from seeking professional help, as they simply don’t know or believe they have a problem. For others, a deeply embedded sense of self-reliance may make them feel as though getting help means they’re weaker than they should be.
Perhaps the only thing harder than watching someone you love struggle with their mental health is knowing they could benefit from professional care, but they’re not in the right state of mind to seek it out on their own. While encouraging them to get help can be tricky, with the right approach, you can help your loved one understand the benefits of treatment.
Get your timing right
Before you even think about how you’ll approach the subject of mental health care with your loved one, it’s important to determine when and where it’d be best for the two of you to have this kind of conversation.
How your loved one reacts to your suggestions and guidance can be, to a great extent, determined by your timing. You don’t want to start the conversation when they’re in a bad mood, tired, under a lot of stress, in the middle of something important, or otherwise distracted, as they’ll be more likely to dismiss you or shrug off your advice.
You also don’t want to have this sensitive conversation in front of other people, or in a situation where others can easily overhear what’s being said. Instead, approach your loved one when they’re calm and in a good mood, and aim to have a private, friendly conversation that leaves them feeling cared for and respected.
Offer unconditional support
Because there’s still such an intense stigma surrounding mental health and treatment in today’s society, it’s vital to offer unconditional support so your loved one knows you truly care about their well-being.
To make sure they can feel your unconditional support, approach them with empathy, not judgement. Your loved one may already know they need help, but they may be afraid to seek it if they think others will judge them.
To show them how much you care, be gentle, and use “I” statements whenever possible. You might say, “I know this is hard for you, but I’m talking to you because I love you, and it seems like you’re going through a rough patch.”
Make sure your loved one knows that your unconditional support also includes helping them find a therapist. For someone who’s dealing with the effects of mental illness, this task can seem overwhelming. You can make the process easier by offering to do the research, make the call, and even accompany them to their first appointment.
Be prepared for resistance
Before you head into your conversation, think about what you might say if your loved one resists your insights and suggestions. If they say they’re not willing or ready to receive help, don’t consider it a closed door. As long as the subject is on the table, you still have an opportunity to help them understand the gravity of the problem as well as the importance of treatment.
To help them see themselves the same way you do, you may start by naming their positive characteristics, including those that are less apparent when their symptoms take over. When you celebrate someone’s admirable qualities, they’re more likely to be motivated to get the help they need to better themselves even further.
Remember, encouraging someone to seek professional treatment for a mental health problem is a long-term undertaking that requires ongoing support and care. Whether your loved one is ready or resistant, the experienced team of therapists at Advanced Psychiatry Associates can help. Call our office in Folsom, California, or use our easy online tool to schedule a visit.