How to tell a loved one they need help

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Someone you know and care for isn’t doing so well. Perhaps you’ve noticed some changes in them, or they’ve confided in you that they’re unhappy, anxious, or even thought about suicide. Either way, you’re concerned and you know that them getting counselling or some other kind of mental health support is what they need. How do you tell them?
I myself have been in this situation with friends and family. It’s a touchy subject, because you’re confronting someone with the reality that they’re struggling in some way, people can get defensive. Some people don’t think they need help, or even worse, they think things like counselling are a waste of time. The last thing you want to do is upset someone, and yet if you say nothing you may not sleep so well.
Here are some tips to have that conversation with your loved one:
  1. “How do you feel you’re coping with everything” - Open the conversation about how the person feels they’re coping with the pressures in their life, or with a significant event that’s recently happened. By getting them to assess how they feel they’re doing, they’re more likely to recognise they have a problem.
  2. “What are you doing that’s helpful?” - Check in with them about what strategies they’re using to help themselves at this time. If the answer is alcohol or ‘nothing’, then you can be sure they’re in need of some other solutions.
  3. “Have you thought about seeing a counsellor/psychologist/coach?” – Ask if has crossed their mind that seeing a professional would be a good thing to do. It opens up the idea as an option for them.
  4. “This is a tough situation I went through, and this is how I got better” – Sharing a person story of a challenging time in your life (if you feel comfortable) and how you dealt with it shows a little vulnerability and shows that it’s ok and even advantageous to acknowledge problems where they are and get help. If you’re thinking of recommending a specific counsellor or psychologist, you can mention how that professional made a difference to you.
  5. “What do you feel you need right now?” - Empower the person to verbalise what they think they need. Hopefully they’ll recognise that external support is worthwhile. You can gauge by their answer if you think they’ll get help or if they might need you to gently guide them in the right direction.helpful-words-for-someone-who-self-injures
Here’s some tips of what NOT to do or say:
  • “You should get help, you’re not coping on your own.” – While it might seem like a perfectly reasonably thing to say, surprisingly it’s not that effective. Why? Firstly, it’s a matter of opinion what someone should or shouldn’t do. Secondly, to make a judgement about how well someone is or isn’t coping without exploring it with them first, is really making an assumption.
  • “Get help or else” - While you may feel at your wits end about someone’s mental health and how it’s affecting both you and them, giving ultimatums are distressing and lack empathy. Coming from a more compassionate angle, expressing how they are affecting you and giving them options is likely to keep a level of rapport between you and them.
  • “If you don’t get help, then you’re just being stupid/stubborn” – Even if this is how you’re feeling about the situation, no-one likes to suffer and keep themselves in a dark place. However, there are likely many factors weighing in on their mind and for some people they believe that getting help is a sign of weakness or they don’t trust people they don’t know. Perhaps it would be better to find out what their resistance is against getting help, listen to what they say, and see if you can see it from their perspective, before gently shifting them to look at it from a different perspective.
While you have the best of intentions suggesting they get help, or recommend a specific practitioner to them, it’s not up to you whether they take it up or not. Similarly, you cannot change someone who’s not ready or willing to change. Just having a conversation about how they think they’re doing and identifying where they aren’t coping so well will already be helping them.
People in need want to feel heard, understood, respected and cared for. If you come from a place of love and genuine concern, and leave out pressuring them, you’ll already be making a difference.If they’re ready to take action and see someone, you may like to offer to come with them, or to catch up with them after their appointment so they can debrief with you. Providing choices can help a person feel empowered.
depression-help-someone-400x400And if someone doesn’t take action straight away, don’t assume your conversation hasn’t had an impact. Some people take time to let seeds germinate, and may take action down the track. It’s ok to check in with them from time to time (not every day, or nag) to see how they’re feeling and where they’re at.If you’re not sure how to approach someone about getting help or extra support, feel welcome to ask your questions in the Comments box below and I’ll give you some extra tips.
Useful Contacts:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78

BeyondBlue 1300 22 46 36