Tips for Helping a Loved One Seek Mental Health Care, From the Person Who Helped Me
The love of your life might be like millions of people. Those who are wandering around, attempting to make it through their anxiety and depression symptoms, trying to convince themselves and you it isn’t “that bad” and that they don’t need help. I would know. I was one of them.
I can now acknowledge that my anxiety and depression is not a character flaw. It’s a medical condition. Getting to the point where I could finally seek help was a nightmare. Ask my partner. He took me kicking and screaming to counseling.
So I thought who better to tell you how to get your partner with anxiety or depression to get help than the person who helped me: My partner.
Here’s what he had to say:
1. Show patience and gentleness, without judgment.
“Of course, patience, gentleness and non-judgment are essential. I knew Kyla wasn’t going to agree to see somebody until she decided for herself that she was ready. Forcing it only makes it harder.”
2. Do your research.
“I put a lot of work into learning about what services were available in our city. I always tried to destigmatize accessing mental health. I told her it was totally normal. They don’t put money into those resources for no reason. Accessing mental health services is a sign of strength, not weakness.
I also tried to make it as easy as possible for her to access the services. I started by asking trusted friends what resources they used. I asked for referrals and stories. Learn as much as you can about a counselor’s/psychologist’s background, their education and their approach. I was eventually able to dispel a lot of her fears by having lots of good information.”
3. Be discrete.
“I always asked as if it was for me, not for Kyla. This way she wouldn’t feel implicated. There is a lot of shame and guilt packed into what she was experiencing, and she would have been mortified and hated me forever if I was going around asking for advice on her behalf or talking about her experience with others.”
4. Make the call.
“Once I had a list, I called the organizations I found and had conversations with the front desk staff to better understand the services they offered, the wait times and the intake process. I asked them for advice on how my partner could feel safe coming to speak to them. They were always wonderful and flexible. They suggested she could contact them directly when she was ready or they would be happy to communicate through me if that would make it easier for her. These people are professionals and want to help you.”
“Once I was prepared with a lot of information, I told her I had been thinking about some of the things she had been struggling with and I had done a bit of research. I asked if I could share what I had learned. You know your partner best. You’ll have to feel out how best to drop this into conversation.
We are lucky that we already had excellent communication skills and a habit of telling each other everything. It also helped that I had been to see a psychologist before as well. So I could share my experience, good and bad.”
6. Make it easy.
“I kept it really open, telling Kyla I wanted to learn what I could and maybe together we could pursue any options that seemed to have value. I always asked for Kyla’s permission before I did anything more. I asked if she would be willing to speak to the people I had spoken to. This way she could hear for herself and ask any other questions she had.
A key piece of information you need to know is their hours. If your partner calls them or tries to visit while they are not open, then they might give up. I made sure I was always gently holding her accountable, while facilitating each step she wavered on. Making it simple will help your partner avoid the emotional labor of actually carrying out the tasks involved in this process, including finding the phone numbers, office hours and bus routes. It will ultimately help them feel like it is less daunting and give them fewer excuses not to do it.”
7. Deal with objections.
“When I first suggested that Kyla seek help, she was full of excuses and objections. Without a doubt this will happen when you approach your partner about seeking help. She claimed it wasn’t really that bad, after crying in my arms for two hours and mulling over reasons to live. It was clearly pretty bad. You wouldn’t wait until all your teeth have fallen out to visit the dentist. You should not wait until you are on the brink of self-destruction to seek help.
She tried to object that other people had it so much worse. I assured her this was not a good reason to avoid seeking help. She said she couldn’t afford help. I prioritized the cheap or free mental health resources available in our city. Things that are cheap and good are never fast unfortunately. So we found the waiting list was several months long. We talked about it and we agreed that we would put her name on the waiting list and try something else in the meantime.”
8. Mind your own business.
“As the process unfolded and Kyla was put in touch with professionals and started her visits, I took a step back. I stayed involved to the extent that I stayed curious and created the space for her to talk to me if she needed to. Yet, I also realized those conversations are none of my business.”
9. Take care of yourself.
“This is the most important tip on this list. When you are trying to support someone with anxiety or depression, it is absolutely essential that you take care of your mental health as well. Clearly, if your partner is struggling and you are reading this, then it has had some effect on you. If the idea of seeking help for yourself makes you uncomfortable, then you need to challenge yourself to live by example. One of the most effective ways to help your partner prioritize their mental health is to prioritize your own. Show them that there is no reason to be afraid to seek help.
It won’t be easy, and it will be an emotional minefield. Mental illness can destroy relationships, but if you can be there for your partner and support them through this process, you will learn things about kindness, patience and love that will help you succeed and evolve in every aspect of your life.”
Image via Thinkstock.