Note: This blog is part of a cross-collaboration between the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. This piece originally appeared on the NAMI Blog.
February 27, 2018 - It’s hard to watch someone you care about struggle with their mental health. It’s even worse when you know they could benefit from professional help. Approaching an individual and encouraging them to seek therapy can be a tricky situation. If done the wrong way, you could aggravate the person or turn them against the idea entirely. However, there is an effective way to have this conversation.
Here are some steps you can take to tell your loved one about the benefits of seeking therapy.
Misconception about mental health and therapy has intensified stigma in society. Your loved one may be awarethat they need help, but may be afraid to seek it if they think you will judge or treat them differently. Therefore, it is essential to use non-stigmatizing language when talking with them about their mental health. Assure them that you will support them through the therapy process.
Demi Lovato is one of the most vocal celebrities about her mental health issues. She mentioned on multiple occasions how important it was for her to have people around that really care about her wellbeing. She credits her support group for being able to go through everyday life. Demi asks for advice from her loved ones and asks them to let her know when they feel something’s off: "So whether it's with my management team or with my friends, every choice that I make, I run by people. And that's what's really helped me—vocalizing what you need."
Be Sensitive To Timing And Place
Talking to someone about mental health requires emotional sensitivity as well as physical sensitivity. The “where” and “how” the topic is presented may determine how a person reacts to your suggestions. Your loved one may not be as bold as Kesha when she shared her condition and struggles with the world while receiving an award.
Don’t start this delicate conversation in front of other people or where others can hear as this may cause discomfort. And avoid grouping up in an intervention-style conversation as people do on TV shows. Allow the person struggling to decide whether they want others to know. This way, they feel respected and in control of their own treatment.
Also: Avoid talking to someone when they are in a bad mood, tired, have tight deadlines at work or if they’re doing something important. They may dismiss you or disregard the weight of the topic. Approach the person when they’re in a good mood, relaxed and undistracted. Try as much as possible to keep the conversation private, friendly and relaxed.
Prepare For Resistance
Not all people who hear about therapy will be willing to try it out. You need to be prepared to make your case if your loved one resists your suggestion. Here are some ideas that you can use to highlight the importance of therapy:
- Try to use your relationship as leverage, in a loving way. Whether you’re their sibling, friend, spouse or relative, tell them how important your relationship with them is to you. And how it could benefit from their seeking therapy. However, avoid giving an ultimatum as it can cause emotional distress.
- Name their admirable qualities. It’s easier to appeal to someone by pointing out what you like about them. When you point out someone’s positive qualities, they will be motivated to take the necessary steps to better themselves even further.
- Explain specific areas of problematic behavior. Most people who refuse therapy may claim that they don’t have a problem. By pointing out specific problems without coming off as judgmental, you can help them see the need for seeking professional help.
Offer To Help
You can try to embolden someone to go to therapy, but unless you are willing to offer meaningful support, it’s not going to encourage them. Some people do not know where to start when seeking help. Guide them in finding a suitable therapist in the area, depending on their preferences. You can contact offices on their behalf or research various professionals, their credibility and reviews.
Some people are scared of seeing a therapist alone or signing up for group therapy. Offer to go with them until they’re comfortable. You can sit in the waiting room during their first few sessions. Make sure to assure them that you won’t ask prying questions about the counseling unless they want to share.
Seeking therapy is one of the best steps that a person with a mental health condition can take. However, it’s an effort that requires great strength and courage. Share your suggestions as openly as possible and leave them to make the decision that best suits their needs. Above all things, assure them of your continued love and support throughout the process.
Mike Jones, owner, and contributor at Schiz Life, is fighting against mental illness stereotypes. He has immersed himself into the schizophrenia community and is offering advice regularly on specific treatments, tips for diagnosis, and differences between this condition and other mental disorders. Mike is passionate about fitness, clean eating and sudoku. You can follow Mike on Twitter @mike_jones35