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How to Help a Loved One Seek Mental Health Support When They Don’t Want To


When mental illness hits, it can hit hard. It hits the person who has it hard and it can hit the family equally hard, though in very different ways.

One of the most common questions I get after my presentations and shows is, “how can I help my loved one when they don’t think they need help to begin with?” So common is this question, in fact, that I’ve written two previous posts for Psychology Today: How to Help Your Adult Child if They Have a Mental Illness and When Adult Children Don’t Want Help.

There are many reasons for not wanting help, such as denial, shame, anosognosia (or lack of insight – a symptom of psychosis itself). Regardless of the reason, as a family member or friend, you can feel powerless. But there are steps you can take to help your loved one. Here are a few to help you help your loved one move forward on the journey to recovery and wellness.

1. Remember the journey to accepting there is a problem to deal with is theirs alone.

You can help prep the ground by having discussions and listening with an open heart, by setting clear boundaries, by offering information when appropriate. For anyone who’s been in this position, you’re aware it takes more than one conversation. It takes many. It’s about voicing your concern with compassion. At the same time, it’s about recognizing you are not responsible for their health and happiness. If you’re a parent of an adult child, this is one that is most heartbreaking things to learn and understand. Letting go is tough even when the adult child is well and thriving. The video and resources of Dr. Komrad have some concrete suggestions.

2. Ask your loved one to humor you and go to see the doctor together.

When family members ask me how to help their loved one, the issue has been going on for quite some time. And, in that time, entrenched struggles have developed and mistrust on both sides may have been established.

3. Rebuild trust and rapport.

Your adult son, daughter, sibling or parent may continue to get angry when you suggest anything. The trick is for you to not get angry back. The goal is to have them be willing to see someone for a general checkup. In that appointment, have a mental health checkup too. References from Dr. Xavier Amador, listed below, are excellent in describing how to listen without creating power struggles and rebuild trust essential for healing.

4. Evaluate whether you really are the best person to talk to your loved one right now.

Be honest. If conversations almost always end with tempers flying, another person who has their best interests at heart and can communicate more easily is a better option, at least for now.

Online resources I personally recommend:

  • If you need help immediately, please search this list of crisis lines and centers and contact one of them right away.
  • This video from Dr. Mark Komrad has some good points. I wouldn’t watch the first part, but from 49:30 minutes he describes when, how to talk to someone, along with some dos and don’ts. Some of his approach is a little paternalistic, but I like the tips. His book: “You Need Help!: A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling” may be a helpful read. I can’t vouch for the info as I haven’t read it yet, but it comes recommended.His website is: www.komradmd.com. He does evaluations, but the cost is extremely high. He also has an extensive book list.
  • Check Dr. Amador’s book and technique “I don’t need Help, I’m Not Sick.” He describes his LEAP (listen, empathize, agree, partner) approach in this post, which gives a great summary of the program. You can check Dr. Amador’s referrals page for clinicians who work with his method.
  • If you find these resources helpful and would like additional support and guidance, I offer mental health coaching sessions with a free initial consult for family and individuals.
  • Practical tips for family and friends on the “Living with Mental Illness: A Guide for Family and Friends” website.
  • A good website for family and friends of people with bipolar disorder.
  • My previous Psychology Today post list US support groups for family and friends as well as individuals living with mental illness (such as NAMI).

I hope these resources help. Let me know if they are helpful, or if you have your own I haven’t listed here.

A version of this article was previously published on Psychology Today.