How To Gently Encourage a Loved One Suffering from Mental Illness to Seek Professional Help
The same way someone with a sickness such as a cold or flu would need extra love and support, one suffering from a mental health condition needs it too. We understand that it can be hard knowing what to do or say to show your support to those suffering and that this can leave you feeling helpless at times.
On the receiving end, living with a mental illness can be seriously debilitating. The good news is that there many effective treatments out there to promote its recovery. The not so great news is that with the stigma associated with mental illnesses, many often turn this stigma towards themselves and see themselves as weak in seeking help.
This is why it’s critical for friends and family to step in and encourage their loved ones in taking the first step to seek help and improve their lives, especially when they really need it. While alone you may feel powerless, by encouraging your loved ones to get help, you have the opportunity to improve and potentially save their lives.
The thought of approaching a topic as sensitive as this might frighten some, so we've asked psychotherapist and founder of Sofia Wellness Clinic, Sophia Goh, to give us some pointers to help all friends, family and others, gently encourage a loved one suffering to seek professional help.
You’re unsure whether your friend has a mental illness because he/she doesn’t like to talk about it
“Understand that it is not your responsibility to solve their problems. Your role is to listen to them openly.”
It can often be difficult to figure out when a friend is feeling low or moody, or when there’s something more that needs further attention.
If a loved one is acting glum or out of their usual character and you suspect that they are going through something but don’t like to talk about it, don’t try to force anything out of them. Instead, convey the message that they can reach out to you if they need help, and if they do, that you will be there to listen with open arms.
• “Cheer up”
• “Things will be fine”
• “It’s not as bad as you think”
If your friend is open about his/her mental illness, but you find yourself not knowing how to respond or react when you talk about it
Similar to the scenario above, your role is to be there for them. Different people may interpret the same things differently, so there isn’t necessarily a ‘right’ thing to say when you’re talking to someone struggling with mental illness. Showing them that you are there for them when they need you is usually the best way that you can show someone struggling, your support.
Check-in with your friend and ask him/her how they’d like you to respond when they talk about their mental illness. Do they just want you to listen? Perhaps they’d like you to provide other perspectives?
What are some warning signs that need immediate attention?
Seeking professional help isn’t necessarily for the mentally ill, however, it’s those who are suffering from one who can benefit from it the most.
Here are some warning signs that are a strong indicator for you to encourage your loved one to seek professional help:
• Thoughts or plans of killing or hurting one’s self or another person
• Hearing voices or seeing things that no one else hears or sees
• Being overly suspicious or fearful
• A serious drop in school or work performance
• Sudden personality changes that are bizarre or out of character
Some tips on encouraging a loved one to seek professional help
• Prepare for this discussion by designating a special time for it in advance. Ask to be listened to and taken seriously.
• Find a place that is emotionally neutral
• Do not do it at family gatherings / special events / arguing or right after an argument / by email, text or social media chat
• Talk about your feelings (e.g., “I am worried about you”)
If they are skeptical or resistant to seeking help, or are in denial of needing it
Don’t rush it. Help to set the groundwork by sharing with them about what therapy is, the process of it, what to expect in therapy, and listening to them openly about what their thoughts are. Continue to reach out to them and rest assure them that you will still be there if they would like to reach out to you in need of help.
While seeking therapy is one of the best steps that a person with a mental health condition can take, it's one that requires much strength and courage. Remember, understand and accept that it is not your decision for them to get help. Ultimately, it is their responsibility for resolving their own problems. As their friend or relative, you are simply there to encourage and support them through it all and assure them of your continued love and support throughout the process.
Through it all, don’t forget to support yourself too
When seeing a loved one in pain and suffering, we have the tendency to want to do whatever we can to help the person feel better.
Being there for someone else can be taxing, so it’s important to make sure that you are taking care of yourself emotionally, mentally and physically too. Don’t be afraid to say when you need to take some time for yourself. By doing this, you model self-care for the person you are supporting. And when things are starting to feel a little overwhelming, don’t be afraid to seek out support for yourself too!
Sophia Goh is a professional counselor and psychotherapist based in Singapore. Her areas of expertise are in Depression, Anxiety and Stress Management, Anger Management, life transitions, career counselling, relationship and self-esteem issues. She also works with teenagers and parents on child and adolescent issues, peer pressure, bullying, academic stress and difficult parent-child relationships.
To book an appointment with Sophia, please call +65 6250 1222 or drop us an email.
Featured Contributor: Sophia Goh
Sophia Goh is a professional counsellor and psychotherapist based in Singapore. She holds a Master of Arts in Counselling and Guidance and is the founder of Sofia Wellness Clinic. She is passionate about helping individuals lead successful, fulfilling and well-meaning lives – one that they would be eager to jump out of bed for. She works closely with teenagers and adults to help them overcome life challenges and flourish as individuals.
Sophia believes that counselling and psychotherapy should be as accessible and as normal as going to the gym, or getting a haircut. Instead of paying attention to our mental health only when issues arise, she believes that our mental health is an important aspect of human functioning that anyone can strive to improve.
Click here for Sophia's full bio.