How to Find Mental Health Help for a Friend or Family Member

It can be difficult to determine whether a loved one is suffering from a mental health condition, particularly if he or she has never been diagnosed.

Sometimes, it can be up to you to start the conversation around mental health care. In order to do this effectively, it is important to know the possible signs and symptoms of a mental illness. You should also have strategies in place for an open, honest and calm conversation.

You may need to help your friend or family member find mental health support in your local area, perhaps through a doctor or online directory. You may even need to reach out to a mental health professional on your own. Either way, you should be aware of the different treatment options available and what your friend or family member may need. By taking a proactive approach to helping your loved one, you can help remind him or her that help and treatment is available.

Be Informed

When you are trying to help a friend or family member with his or her mental health, it is important to understand as much about mental health as possible. You may already know the condition, disorder or illness your friend or family member suffers from. In this case, research the condition using reputable sources to educate yourself on symptoms and treatment. Make sure to check any and all facts, reports and stories you find online.

If you suspect a friend or family member is suffering from an undiagnosed mental health problem, familiarizing yourself with common mental illness symptoms can be very helpful. While these are not definitive proof of a mental illness, they may be considered warning signs:

  • Withdrawing from social contacts and activities.
  • Substance abuse and addictive behavior.
  • Unusual changes in appetite, hygiene or sleep patterns.
  • Severe mood swings.
  • Feelings of confusion, anxiety, anger or helplessness.
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm.
  • Trouble with memory or thought processes.
  • Disconnection with reality or believing things that are not true.
  • Difficulty functioning with everyday tasks and activities.

Reach Out

If your friend or family member is exhibiting signs of mental illness, you will need to start a conversation with him or her. It is important to be sensitive to his or her situation and symptoms as you do so. Open the conversation in a calm manner, stating your concerns without raising alarm. Refer to the warning signs you have observed to support what you say.

Be aware your friend or family member may react in an emotional manner, perhaps even as a result of his or her condition. He or she may be feeling the stigma surrounding mental health issues. It can be very helpful to draw parallels between mental health and physical health, reminding him or her that both can benefit from professional help and treatment. If he or she is in crisis, possibly about to harm himself or herself or another person, you should call emergency services immediately.

Screening and Diagnosis

The first step toward getting treatment is being diagnosed. Encourage your friend or family member to book an appointment with his or her doctor or a mental health professional. An online screening test might help him or her to make sense of his or her symptoms before the appointment. You might offer to go along as well if he or she is nervous.

The diagnosis will generally come with recommendations for treatment. This may include help from a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or even group therapy. Your friend or family member may also require medication. In an extreme situation, he or she may be hospitalized.

You may choose to seek hospitalization on behalf of a family member if necessary, but you should be willing to take help and advice from medical professionals before doing so. In-patient treatment may involve therapy as well as medication. Make sure both you and your loved one understand the diagnosis and treatment options. Your loved one should be confident his or her rights will be respected.

In these cases, you should find out what your friend or family member will need to bring to the hospital, how long the stay will be and what kind of support and care will be required after discharge. Asking questions about the treatment, such as the risk of any habit-forming medication, is also important.

Dealing With Concerns

There are a number of concerns that may prevent your friend or family member from wanting to seek help. Many of these concerns, however, might be more easily dealt with than you think. For example, many health insurance plans cover mental health services. This includes Medicare and Medicaid. Suggest your friend or family member look for mental health professionals covered by his or her medical insurance plan.

Medication side effects can also be a concern, possibly even to the point where your friend or family member will refuse to take medication. You can help by having an open conversation about medication options and how to deal with possible side effects. Encourage your friend or family member to speak to a medical care professional about any concerns.

Ongoing Support

Try to find out the best ways to support your friend or family member through his or her particular condition. Each mental illness will require its own treatment and will benefit from different support strategies. It may be tempting to try and provide for all of the needs of your friend or family member, but it is more beneficial if you help him or her to develop independent coping strategies. Controlling your loved one’s life will prevent him or her from learning to deal with the mental health issue.

Your friend or family member may need ongoing treatment. As well as therapy and medication, there are several ways you can help him or her to find local support:

  • Online directories can help you find affordable mental health professionals in your area.
  • Support groups, dealing with the specific illness or disorder your friend or family member is suffering from, may be available locally or online.
  • Community-based mental health support services, such as evaluation, therapy and case management. The exact programs available will depend on your location.
  • Self-care programs to help deal with the symptoms of issues such as anxiety and depression.

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