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Have you ever struggled to share your concern with a loved one about their mental health?
If you have, I totally understand. It’s a very delicate situation that many of us avoid because well…it’s awkward and fraught with peril. You don’t know whether your loved one will shut down, be offended, embarrassed or even be angry with you.
The thing is though, saying something could potentially save a life.
Why? Because sometimes it’s really, really hard for those of struggling with severe mental health issues to see how poorly we’re doing until it’s too late. We’re just in too deep. That’s why it’s so helpful to have someone on the outside to remind us to stop and look at what’s going on.
That being said, I know telling someone you’re concerned about them is kind of difficult. Never fear! As part of our ongoing Mental Health Education series, we’ve made a short guide on how to say “I care.”
1. Pick the right time to say you’re concerned
If you remember anything from this guide, remember this: early intervention saves lives!!
The best time to express concern for your loved one’s mental health is when you notice the early warning signs of a crisis. Mood changes, thinking distortions, sleeplessness, and withdrawal are just a few of the many signals that someone is about to head into trouble.
This is a good time to simply say, “Hey, I noticed you haven’t been sleeping and you’ve been a lot more irritable lately, I’m concerned about you. Wanna talk about it?”
This opens the door for further dialogue and lets your loved one know you care. All this can lead to early intervention and possibly even avoidance of crisis.
2.Choose your words Wisely
Knowing what to say is hard; knowing how to say it is even harder! Here’s a quick list of do’s and don’ts for verbally expressing your concern.
- Avoid accusatory or demeaning language (“you’ve been acting so crazy” or “what’s wrong with you!?”)
- Keep it simple
- Stick with the facts by relaying observations i.e. “I’ve noticed you’ve been irritable and are crying a lot. Want to talk about it?”
- Gently encourage professional help – never demand it or give ultimatums
- Always use the key phrase “I’m concerned about you”
- Don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve had suicidal thoughts and/or a plan. The American Psychiatric Association states that it’s pretty normal for folks experiencing a crisis to have these thoughts. Remember, asking a person about suicide will not encourage them to do it! If you need more guidance on this topic, check out our guide at mysoulbalmcomhome.wpcomstaging.com/2020/04/09/what-to-do-if-your-friend-is-contemplating-suicide/
Basically, the goal here is to keep your language centered on the facts. This will help you express your concern without making the receiver feel attacked.
Chances are they already feel bad enough without you putting a ton of external pressure on them. So remember to choose your words wisely, lead with compassion, and be gentle but firm instead of pushy.
3.Push through the awkwardness
This is arguably the hardest part of the whole process. By telling someone you’re concerned about their mental health, you’re diving into a world of uncertainty.
Will they be mad if you say something? Is it going to be super awkward?
The answer is, it might be. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything. It’s important to push through the uncertainty in order to make sure your loved one is going to be okay.
I know personally, I’d rather have a friend who is alive and mad at me than one who is dead.
4. Don’t take Their reaction personally
Chances are, your loved one won’t be upset when you express concern. Most folks struggling with mental illness really do appreciate it when someone cares enough to notice them.
However, they may be embarrassed or feel awkward in some way. That’s because sharing genuine concern is a very vulnerable activity and most of us don’t really know how to handle it. I say this because, sometimes that feeling of embarrassment can look an awful lot like upset.
And then you may have a friend or loved one who is actually annoyed that you brought it up to them. That’s okay. They’re dealing with a lot of intense stuff, it’s actually pretty normal to react in an abnormal way.
Whatever their reaction may be, don’t take it personal. And definitely don’t let it stop you from expressing concern!
5. Don’t Give Up
Last but not least, remember not to give up! If the talk doesn’t go the way you thought it would (it usually doesn’t), don’t lose heart.
Even if your loved one brushes off your concern, denies, or gets upset you’ve still made it clear that you care. And that care really means everything to your loved one – even if they aren’t currently in the headspace to say so.
So don’t give up. You may have to express your concern a couple of times before it really hits home. At the very least, if they do experience a crisis, your loved one knows you’re there for them. And that can make a huge difference in the intensity and length of a crisis.
And there you have it! I hope these recommendations help!
I want to finish up with some real talk.
When my husband turns to me and says “I’m really concerned about you” it’s an absolutely heartbreaking moment for me.
But I need him to do it.
I need him to do it because as a perfectionist, it’s hard for me to admit something is wrong. I don’t want to seem weak or out of control.
In reality, I’m none of those things – I’m just having a hard time like we all do sometimes. But when I’m really low, I’m not in 100% in touch with reality and I need help getting back there. Whether I realize it or not.
Him being brave enough to say “I’m concerned you’re heading for a crisis” has saved my life on more occasions than I’d like to admit.
That’s why it’s so important for you to also step up and say something, even if it’s not easy. I know you can do it! If you stick to the facts, push through the awkwardness, and don’t give up – you just might save a life.
***If your loved one is experiencing a Mental Health crisis***
Please reach out for help using the resources below!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
The Crisis Text Line: https://www.crisistextline.org/about-us/where-we-are/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwncT1BRDhARIsAOQF9LlBFkk3oaOVBJqpmvpaYtXUNr3JjAP6FC0z9tSY5cKB2q5MUufourYaAr63EALw_wcB
NAMI’s Nationwide “Warm Line Directory” for those in danger of a crisis but not actually in one yet https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/BlogImageArchive/2020/NAMI-National-HelpLine-WarmLine-Directory-3-11-20.pdf
The Trevor Project Trevor Support Center for LQBTQ+ youth in crisis https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/trevor-support-center/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw6uT4BRD5ARIsADwJQ1-PXhqQRONeUux42chZ_AalRhPFt1nwWxL4SFOwp4R9Cfc9QJpjdFoaAgQLEALw_wcB
You can also call the Trevor Lifeline at 866-488-7386.
Youth Crisis Hotline Resources: https://teencentral.com/help/
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13 thoughts on “How to Save a Life: Expressing Concern for a Loved One Struggling With Their Mental Illness”
Great post 😁
Thank you ☺️
Thank you for this post! You echoed basically all the things my husband and I learned in a mental health crisis intervention and suicide prevention workshop we attended a few months ago. Especially the part about asking directly (but compassionately), “Are you having suicidal thoughts?”
Like you, my hubby is often the one to pull me back from the fog when I drift a little too far into it. So glad to hear you’ve got that support 🙂 🙂
You’re welcome! I’m glad you were able to get the crisis intervention class, that’s a really cool idea. Was that through a health system?
Supportive partners are really the best for sure 😄
Thanks! It was through military family services here in Ontario (Canada) — my husband is in the Infantry Reserves 🙂
Great post! Thank you for sharing 🙂
It can be very difficult to express concern to loved ones because one never knows how they may react. And it is even more difficult if they suffer from a mental health disorder that you have never experienced – for me the most challenging part is that I often takes things personally, like I know I should not but I can not help it.
Love the advice about sticking to the facts! That’s something that I will definitely practice.
So glad this was helpful! I also take things personally, especially with loved ones because I care so much for them. Sticking to the facts helps me so much, I hope it helps you too ❤️
LOVE the “push through the awkwardness”. When training to become a therapist we are constantly told to learn how to sit with silence (aka awkwardness). Its so uncomfortable but it truly does bring the best outcome!
Yep it’s true, sometimes silence and patience are your best tools to get someone to a breakthrough! Thanks for reading 💖
Thanks for this. We all need reminders of acts of kindness and reaching out to others who might be not so resilient or so mentally strong. It can happen to anyone. Glad you were about things like that.
Your suggested words to use to approach are excellent. Thank you for your advice … very helpful.
This post brings up a very important point. People need other people to reach out to help them. I had a friend commit suicide and since then, I’ve been such a supporter of mental health initiatives. Thanks for this 🙂
This is so important thank you for sharing!