A few ideas on how to talk to someone if you think they need mental health help
3 February 2021
Mental suffering for many is still a taboo subject, but unlike many physical ailments, it can be difficult to suggest your loved one get help. Lysn psychologist Noosha Anzab suggests the gentle way to do it.
When someone we love is under the weather or needs some investigation into their health, most of us are super comfortable referring them on to a GP or specialist.
In fact, many of us would have no qualms in saying things like “why don’t you run it by your doctor” or “have you booked to see your doctor yet?”.
But when it comes to mental health, the same approach just doesn’t seem to exist. Unfortunately, the historic stigma of mental illness often keeps many people who are struggling with a mental health condition (along with those around them) quiet.
Thankfully, as we move into the future, we are starting to get enough awareness to change that. Talking to someone about mental health can be a difficult subject to broach, however with the right approach, it can be done with love, kindness and care.
If you think someone you know would benefit from seeking professional mental health help, here are some things to consider when suggesting help to them:
Speaking gently without judgement
For anyone who is battling mental illness, there just isn’t any room for harsh, abrupt or judgmental communication. Those suffering from mental illness do not have the capacity to be demanded of things, to be spoken to with a tough-love tone or for assumptions to be made about their presentation.
Instead, they’d benefit from open communication that involves attentive listening, harbouring of emotional safety and trust that the discussion won’t escalate to an argument or get emotionally overwhelming.
Here, it might be worthwhile to explore “I” statements and avoid the word “you”. Instead of saying “you need to see a therapist because you’re not coping”, it might be worthwhile to consider “I can see it is a difficult time at the moment and I’m wondering if there is a professional who could help change that".
Leave the labels to the professionals
When someone is mentally ill, having a label might often make them feel worse especially when the label is plucked out of somewhere by friends or family, because, let’s face it, they usually get it wrong. It’s so important that when suggesting psychological help to a loved one that we explore allowing a professional to assess what is going on and explore the presentation of the illness instead of us just google diagnosing. That way, we can be sure the intervention used is the right one for both the individual and their illness too. Avoid labelling their presentation or illness and making a judgement call, instead focus on their overall health.
Destigmatise mental illness
For most, the stigma around mental illness still exists and usually the label comes with a lot of shame. When asking someone to seek help for their psychological condition, be mindful to not reinforce a woeful and faulty belief around the illness.
Acknowledging how hard the illness might be for the person and being curious about resources available is the best way to go. We always want to consider that if someone breaks a leg, we don’t make them stress out unnecessarily about breaking their leg and all the really awful things that come along with it. Instead, we focus on the acceptance that limbs can be broken and make suggestions for awesome physiotherapists we know or whatever other help may be necessary.
We might even suggest ways to make the injury a little more bearable, like painting the cast or using aids that are decorated or designed to suit individual personalities. That’s the type of regard we want to have for mental illness when we want to suggest help.
We want to be curious about help suited to the individual and not just the label. We also want to explore creative ways of getting help like doing therapy at home, doing therapy via phone or video from anywhere that suits and promotes safety.
Know the resources to suggest
When it comes to matters of the mind, the first step is talking, however the next step should always be taking action. Sometimes simply talking to a friend or loved one can be helpful, but there are times when a professional’s advice is needed.