It’s difficult to observe a family member or friend’s concerning behavior. Perhaps they seem depressed or anxious – or go from extreme highs one day to sad and hopeless the next.
Many of us feel inclined to reach out and express concern in these situations, but most aren’t sure how to bring up the topic of seeking help, especially for a behavioral health issue.
How to reach out and help
“If you are feeling hesitant or nervous about talking to a loved one about their behavior or emotional well being, it’s important to remember that what you are feeling may be just part of what the other person is struggling with,” said Trish Fehr, a licensed clinical professional counselor with Memorial Counseling Associates.
“The worst thing that can happen is that your loved one rejects your concerns and becomes irritated with your observations. The best thing that can happen is that they are relieved to finally have someone really listen to them and offer to assist them. That may well be the first step toward getting help.”
Before you talk about it
Before starting a conversation, Fehr encourages people to think about how they will voice their concerns. What would you want to hear if someone was worried about your behavior? Then write down those thoughts.
“That way, if the conversation gets off target or the person becomes defensive because they are afraid they are being judged, it is easier to get back on the task at hand, which is expressing your care and concern for them and your desire to help them,” Fehr said.
Warning signs of depression or anxiety
Here are some warning signs that a friend or family member might be struggling with depression or anxiety, two of the most common mental health disorders:
- Increased irritability or tearfulness
- Being so drained at the end of the day that they can’t do anything or they withdraw into the television or other mindless activities to avoid interaction with others
- Frequent conversations focused on feeling overwhelmed about things that they cannot control
- Chest pain or a lot of tension in their body
- An increase in physical complaints
- Difficulty sitting still; bouncing their legs or playing with things in their hands more than usual
Though a conversation about someone’s mental health can be uncomfortable, the warning signs should not be ignored.
“For some people, the warning signs may occur for the first time and they may not even notice themselves. For others, the signs might be a relapse in symptoms reminiscent of previous struggles with depression or anxiety,” Fehr said. “Regardless, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. In fact, early intervention can actually reduce the likelihood that the problems will snowball into something more difficult to address.”
If you know someone who might be struggling, suggest they talk to their primary care provider or a mental health professional. They can also utilize a free online screening to assess emotional well being available at MemorialCounselingAssociates.org. The online screening program is anonymous and asks a series of questions about a person’s mood. After completing the self-assessment, you will receive immediate feedback about your score and information about local resources and articles about mental health and well being.