Connecting Loved Ones to Mental Health Supports
You have noticed a change in your friend or family member. Over time, you can see that they aren’t the same person. Perhaps they have noticed this difference in themselves as well, but they aren’t sure how to bring up their concerns. You are worried that your loved one might be struggling with their mental health, but you aren’t sure how to start the conversation.
Why Are You Concerned?
To best help your loved one, start by clarifying in your own mind the problem you’re seeing. Make a list of behavioral and physical changes that concern you. Having a clear list of concerns not only helps the professionals who may become involved, but it may also help your loved one to better understand and articulate their internal struggles. While every mental health condition has its own unique sets of concerns, a number of early indicators are common across mental illnesses:
- Feeling sad or worried often (possibly with suicidal thoughts)
- Struggling to focus
- Drastic mood swings
- Changes in sleep or appetite
- Inability to cope with daily issues
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Using drugs or alcohol
Let Them Talk
Being able to kindly and calmly talk to the person about the changes you have noticed may give them the opening they need to share their worries with you. If they choose to talk about what they are experiencing, you can listen for additional indicators of mental illness. It is possible that they have been masking symptoms to try to seem okay, so they may share things that you haven’t been able to observe.
If your friend or family member acknowledges your concerns and wants to move forward with getting help for their mental health, it may be possible for you to directly link them to a mental health provider like our facility in West Virginia.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a search tool to help people find mental health providers in their area. Searches can be customized in a number of ways to assist the person in finding supports that are a good fit for them.
What if They Won’t Talk?
If your loved one is not ready to have the conversation with you or in that moment, it is possible that they haven’t recognized any signs of mental illness in themselves or that they are afraid to admit that they are worried. There may still be ways you can help them.
Handing Them Off
If your friend or family member acknowledges that they are experiencing some of the concerning indicators that can point to mental illness but don’t seem open to having a discussion with you, you might be able to encourage them to talk to someone else. You could suggest any of the following that seem appropriate to your situation:
- Family Doctor – Your loved one may feel that their concerns originate from a medical cause, and they could be right. In order to confirm or rule out this possibility, your friend or family member should make an appointment with their primary care doctor to talk about the changes in their mental state. If the doctor doesn’t find a medical cause for the issues, they can make a referral for mental health treatment.
- Clergy – It may be that the person you’re speaking to doesn’t trust your authority on the issue of mental illness. If faith is an important part of your loved one’s life, encourage them to talk to their spiritual leader about what they are seeing. Not only can clergy often provide some counseling support, but they can also normalize seeking mental health services outside of the spiritual community.
- Crisis Counselor – Perhaps your loved one doesn’t want to burden you, or they worry that you will see them differently if they open up about what they are experiencing. Some people just feel more comfortable sharing their struggles with a person they don’t know. A crisis line provides support while maintaining anonymity. In July 2022, it became official that all numbers originating in the United States can reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing or texting 988. The counselors answering this number are trained to help triage mental health crises and connect people who are struggling with short- and long-term mental health services. They can reassure your friend or family member that they are not alone in their struggle and address any mental health myths that might be holding them back from getting support.
If you have reason to believe that your loved one is in immediate danger of attempting suicide, you should call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. If you have questions about mental health or how your loved one can get started in recovering from mental illness, Highland Hospital has a team of professionals who are available to help.