How to Talk to a Loved One About Getting Treatment for Mental Health

How to Talk to a Loved One About Getting Treatment for Mental Health

Is there someone in your life who you’re concerned about? Maybe they haven’t been themselves lately, withdrawing from day-to-day life and not spending time with friends anymore. Maybe their behavior is becoming increasingly out of character, swinging from one emotional extreme to another. Whatever it is, even if you know this loved one could use professional help, it can be a difficult conversation to have.

However, talking to the person you love about getting mental health treatment could be life-changing or even life-saving. With the right preparation and knowledge, you can have this tough discussion and help your friend or family member seek the help they need. 

Preparing for the Conversation

Talking to someone you love about getting treatment for mental health isn’t something you want to walk into unprepared. You can most effectively help your loved one by showing up to the conversation as your most compassionate and kind self. Here are a few steps you can take to properly prepare: 

1. Plan With Intention

Prepare the person you’re going to talk to for the conversation. Let them know ahead of time that you’d like to talk with them about something important. Ensure they feel safe and calm and convey it’s nothing scary or that they did something wrong. Choose a date and time and pick a location that’s comfortable for both of you. 

2. Reflect on What You’d Like to Say

Before you meet with your loved one, take some time to collect your thoughts and feelings. Think of a few specific examples that you can point out to this person. For example, any instances where you were concerned about their mental health. What did they do? How did it make you feel? When you take a little time before the conversation to prepare what you’d like to say, you’re more likely to have an effective conversation and be able to provide real support.

3. Center Yourself Emotionally and Mentally

Pulling aside someone you love to help them seek treatment for mental health can be difficult, awkward, and upsetting. After all, you care about this person, and you’re worried deeply about them. 

Still, it’s important that you remain as calm and centered as you can during the conversation. As hard as it may be for you, keep in mind that your loved one is most likely struggling tenfold. Before the conversation, take a few deep breaths and recall your goal for the conversation: to offer solace and support in getting your loved one the help they need. 

During the Conversation

Now that you’ve prepared both yourself and the person you love for this conversation, it’s time to have the talk. While it can be nerve-wracking to broach the subject, the following tips will help you to stay calm and actively engaged. This way, you can communicate effectively and get through to your loved one about the things that concern you. 

1. Be a Compassionate Listener

While you’ve taken the time to prepare for this conversation, remember that ultimately your goal is to support your loved one. This means you must actively listen when they talk. It’s not just about hearing what they say, it’s about giving your undivided attention to this person so you can meet them where they are. In order to practice good active listening during your conversation, try the following techniques:

  • Put away distractions: Keep electronics silent and away so they don’t disrupt your conversation.
  • Ask open-ended questions: While you have an important goal for the conversation, it’s most important that your friend or family member feels heard. Asking open-ended questions gives them the chance to steer the conversation where they feel it needs to go.
  • Take opportunities to summarize their points: Show your loved one that you’re really hearing what they’re saying by taking breaks to summarize what they’ve told you. This will also help clarify any potential misunderstandings and keep the situation feeling calm and safe. 

2. Be Honest and Direct

Trying to help someone you love get treatment for their mental health is an emotional topic. But it’s helpful for you to be as honest and direct as you can. No matter how close you are to this person, it’s likely you’ve held back from showing just how concerned you are for their health. They may not know how much you’ve noticed or how it’s impacting you and others in their life.

Now is the time to be honest and give specific examples of the behavior you’ve noticed and why it’s troubling to you. For example, if you think your loved one is struggling with depression, you need to tell them the ways you’ve seen this manifest in their life without judgment. Here are some phrases you can fill in the blanks and use to show your friend or family member what you’ve noticed:

  • I’ve noticed that for the past (insert period of time), you’ve been (insert changed behavior) when you used to (insert old behavior). How are you feeling?
  • Talking to you about this makes me feel (insert emotion), but I’m telling you this because I care about you and your mental health. How can I help?
  • I would be happy to help you (insert step you can take, e.g. call their doctor, drive them to an appointment). 

3. Remain Calm and Patient

Regardless of how much you prepare to have this talk, you can’t predict how your loved one will react or where the conversation will go. Remember to remain as calm and patient as you can. Your job here is to support the person you love and be here for them. The conversation may become heated or tension might begin to build. If this happens, take a moment to center yourself and refocus on your goal: to get your friend or family member the care they need.

Many people become defensive, angry, or upset when a loved one initiates a conversation about getting help for mental health. This person may react in ways you don’t expect, so if you can keep in mind that you’re here to help rather than argue, blame, or judge them, you can remain present for whatever direction the conversation may take. And remember that even if their troubling behavior seems wilful or hurtful, it really is out of their control. It can be helpful to have a mantra or word in mind that you can repeat to yourself to remain focused, like “love,” “support” or “acceptance.”

4. Keep Action Steps in Mind

When you listen actively and show up to really help your loved one, the conversation can take many twists and turns. It’s important to keep your plan and action steps at the back of your mind throughout the conversation. And before you wrap things up with your loved one, make sure you’ve talked to them about next steps and any ways that you can help. Because hopefully, by the end of the conversation they’ll be ready to take next steps with you.

You can offer to make an appointment with a mental health treatment team for them, to drive them there or otherwise make arrangements. Or, you can offer to just sit with them while they make the call.

5. Remain Open and Willing to Help

It can be easy to assume you know best what your loved one needs, but keep your heart and ears open. Ask them what they think and about what support they’d like to have from you in taking the next steps. If they shrug you off or try to insist they’re fine, then you can have a few ideas on hand for how you can help that you’ve prepared ahead of time. 

You’ve decided to initiate this conversation out of concern for someone that means a lot to you. This can make you rather attached to certain outcomes and desperate to have the conversation go exactly one way. But opening up a dialogue about your loved one’s mental health is a two-way conversation. And this should ultimately be guided by the person who’s struggling. By remaining open, you can adjust your strategy to better serve your loved one and meet them where they are. 

After the Conversation

Congratulations, you’ve opened up to your loved one and compassionately shared your concerns while listening to what they have to say and offering support. Now, it’s time to follow through and ensure they get the help they need. Here’s what you can do after your talk. 

1. Keep Your Word

Having this sort of conversation is a vital first step on the road to healing for this person in your life. But there are many other steps along this journey. Continue to support your loved one by keeping your word and helping them with whatever you’re capable of and they’re comfortable with

If you promised to help them call an inpatient care program, set up a time to do it. If you offered to drive them to their first therapy appointment, put the date in your calendar and show up on time. You already know that this person is struggling, so do what you can to be reliable and show that you’re committed to helping them.

2. Remain Persistent

Even if you follow all these tips and do your best to have a frank conversation about your concerns for your loved one’s mental health, it still might not go as you hope it will. It’s possible your friend or family member will react negatively, show signs of denial, or shut you down. In this case, remain respectful but persistent. It’s not your job to police your loved one’s behavior or nag or harass them into getting help, but to follow up and check in with compassion and consistency.

3. Gather Further Support

It can feel overwhelming to help someone with their mental health on your own. Just as they shouldn’t have to go through this process alone, neither should you. Gather support from other loved ones in this person’s circle to help carry the load of helping them get treatment. 

What to Avoid When Talking to a Loved One About Getting Help

Just as importantly, there are a few things you should avoid when talking to your loved one about getting treatment for their mental health. This includes:

  • Going in without a plan. This is an emotional topic that can quickly cause a negative response. If you don’t spend any time preparing for the talk, you won’t be as prepared to offer them the support they need in the moment. The good news is that if you’re reading this now, you’re already on your way to showing up prepared.
  • Accepting excuses or making excuses for them. Many people who need treatment for their mental health will make excuses to write off their behavior, and it can be tempting to soothe their nerves by validating these excuses. But this doesn’t help the person you love. Remain calm and compassionate, but don’t accept excuses or create new ones that only prolong the amount of time your loved one goes without treatment.
  • Judging their behavior or making accusations. On the other hand, you don’t want to alienate your loved one by casting judgment or accusing them of certain actions. If you need to, remind yourself and your loved one throughout the conversation that you’re not on opposing teams. You’re on the same team and only here to support them in getting the help they need. 
  • Making a diagnosis. As deeply as you may know and love someone, refrain from guessing at any sort of diagnosis. Stick to the facts and present your feelings of concern for them without trying to tell your loved one what sort of mental health conditions they may be struggling with. You’re not a mental health professional, and this could cause unnecessary stress or anxiety in your family member or friend. 

Getting Help is the First Step

Ultimately, seeking treatment for mental health is something that your loved one must come to terms with on their own time. But no matter how your conversation goes with your friend or family member, you’ve taken an important first step to helping them get better. 

To learn more about our holistic mental health treatment program, as well as how to talk to your loved one about treatment, contact our admissions team today.

Kelley Alexander JD. photo

Kelley Alexander JD.  is the co-director of The Sanctuary at Sedona and has worked over the last decade to develop its innovative Integrative Addiction Recovery Program that has helped hundreds of clients to be recovered from addiction and co-occurring disorders. Through her pioneering work, Kelley and her team at The Sanctuary also work with clients to overcome issues related to codependency, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A JD and former practicing attorney, Kelley holds a BA in World Religions and has done graduate work in psychology. She is an ordained minister, certified shamanic breathwork facilitator, and a graduate of the Four Winds Healing The Light Body School, the premier energy medicine program founded by Alberto Villoldo. Kelley has also been a student of Dr. Joe Dispenza since 2009. She is a member of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology and the Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies. She is a frequent lecturer at seminars and conferences throughout the United States.
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