For the Friends and Family of Someone in Therapy

It is so difficult to watch someone you love struggle, especially with a mental health problem…anxiety, depression, etc.

I’ll never forget a situation described to me by the husband of a woman struggling with depression.  He had awoken one night alone in bed.  He heard her crying in the bathroom and found she had locked the door.  He spent the rest of the night trying to talk her out of the bathroom. At one point, he told her that if she didn’t unlock the door, he didn’t know what he was going to do.  He was at a complete loss as to how to help her.

What to do.

Educate yourself about the occurrence of mental health problems in your family background.  Did anyone in your family struggle with mental health problems, siblings, parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents?  The more you know about your background, the more you may able to recognize patterns that are continuing in your family member.

Research the mental health concern on the internet. Depending on your search, the internet can be a wonderful source of information. Websites sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association or the American Medical Association are recommended.

Talk, with discretion, to others close to the family member you are worried about.  Perhaps, you are misreading things you have seen. Perhaps, they are also seeing the same things and worried just as you are.

Talk to the person who is struggling. Tell them what you are worried about and what you have seen in their behavior that suggests they may be struggling with a mental health issue. Listen to their response and how they see their behavior/mood. Share what you have learned about your family’s background, perhaps what others have shared with you and what you have learned about

Suggest reasonable steps for the person to take, based on their behavior. For example, if you find them in the midst of attempting suicide, a trip to the emergency room is in order.  If they have become weepy or irritable, unable to sleep and have recently lost interest in life, consulting with their doctor, mental health therapist or psychiatrist, would be appropriate.

Many communities, through church, social service or mental health organizations offer services to aid those struggling with mental health problems. A few phone calls could provide you with a number of options for your loved one. Offer to accompany them to such meetings, whether such are with a doctor or a local AA or AA-like meeting.

Above all, don’t abandon the person, even if they refuse to seek help. You may be the only one in their life that they have connection with.  You may need to set boundaries, if they refuse to get help but continue to reach out to you.

Finally, seek assistance yourself, especially if they refuse to seek help and/or worsen.