How do I speak to a loved one about depression and anxiety?
I’m Dr. Maryann Rosenthal, Executive Director of Recovery Ways. One out of three adults will be diagnosed with a mental illness. So, what that means for us is it is likely that we will have a friend, family member, or a loved one going through a mental health crisis at some time during their life. It’s very important for us to be able to look at and see the warning signs and symptoms that show someone is suffering. If someone has a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude about life and they didn’t used to be that way; if they’re losing interest in things that they used to find very pleasurable; if there’s a change in their behavior that you notice at school or at work. Those are the kinds of things that you want to look out for. That’s the first sign that something is going on in their life and that they are suffering.
Your job is to have a conversation with that person who you care about. It will be a difficult conversation and I promise you it won’t be perfect, but it is so important as a first step.
When people are feeling that something is going off in their life, they’re anxious, they’re depressed, they’re paralyzed, they’re scared and they don’t even know how to reach out for help. So your conversation, your touch point can mean the world to them. And again, it won’t be perfect. But, you are going to be giving that person a message of hope.
I had a mentor in psychology that told me, “Maryann, when you can’t give your patients anything else, give them hope.” I have never forgotten that. That overwhelm can take away their ability to think, and you get to help them with the transition. Let’s say that perhaps they think treatment or therapy of some kind can be helpful, you can help them with the logistics of that. You can do some research, you can call some treatment centers. Determine what they need. Do they need residential treatment? Do they need day treatment? What about outpatient? We do know that the combination of therapy and medication produce the best results.
Then what happens when that person starts feeling better? And they will start feeling better. We know that there’s a temptation to stop the medication and the treatment. They feel like they can do it on their own. That’s when you have to step in and have another pretty difficult conversation, more of an organic conversation where you get to talk to them about the ‘why.’ Why are you feeling better? What made you feel better? You want to shift their perspective so that they can see the need to continue on the path they have been on.
We all know that person that absolutely refuses help. What do we do about that? The best thing that I think we can do is keep the door open. You always keep the door open, but you have to provide and set some pretty firm boundaries if you’re going to do that. You want that person to know that when they are ready you are there for them.
The most important thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is your own self-care. That’s often the first thing that goes away when we are trying to help someone through a mental health crisis. So, you’re going to be a good listener. You’re going to help them transition. You’re going to have the difficult conversations with them, and it certainly won’t be just once. You’re going to focus on the signs and the symptoms. You’re going to continue to give them that message of hope. But most importantly, you’re going to take care of yourself.