When someone you love has a mental illness, there is hope. There is help. But at the current moment? It may not seem like it. You may just feel confused, lost or overwhelmed. Or you may not even be sure if your loved one does have a mental illness — you just know something isn’t right. So how do you recognize mental illness? How do you talk to your loved one about it? And what can you do?
When someone you love has a mental illness, first recognize that mental illnesses are illnesses. They are real, serious health issues that need understanding and attention. They can be, and must be, treated, but most are also chronic or long-term issues that don’t just go away overnight or after a few pills. In fact, pills often complicate the situation, as mental illness and addiction often overlap or co-occur. When this is the case, treatment is even more important! Addiction is a mental health issue too. So it’s important to give your friend or family member the support they need. Recognize the challenges they face as real, valid and deserving of care.
Recognizing Mental Illness
Mental health and addiction issues look different for everyone. Symptoms depend on the illness involved or substances used. They depend on individual psychology, physical health, a person’s environment and much more. They change according to a person’s age and situation. This is why it takes a professional to make a full diagnosis. But it doesn’t mean you can’t recognize mental illness in a loved one in the meantime. Mental Health America (MHA) asks you to pay attention to sudden changes in thoughts and behaviors.
Look for the following potential signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents:
- Confused thinking
- Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
- Extreme highs and lows
- Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
- Social withdrawal
- Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Strong feelings of anger
- Strange thoughts (delusions)
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
- Suicidal thoughts
- Numerous unexplained physical ailments
- Substance use
Your loved one doesn’t have to have all these symptoms — or any of them. If you think something is wrong, something probably is. MHA explains, “An estimated 54 million Americans suffer from some form of mental disorder in a given year.” Anyone can find themselves struggling with their mental health. If you are noticing sudden or worrying changes, it’s time to speak up. So how do you do this?
Talking About Mental Illness With a Loved One
If you’re worried about a loved one’s mental health, start with questions. Ask him or her about the changes you’ve noticed or behaviors you’re worried about. Mentalhealth.gov suggests asking questions like the following:
- I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?
- What can I do to help you? How can I help you find help?
- I am someone who cares and wants to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?
Make sure no matter what you say, you approach your conversation with an open mind and open heart. Be compassionate and respectful. Offer to help or to connect your loved one to help. In fact it may be a good idea to go into any conversation about mental health with some resources ready. Connect your loved one to a mental health helpline or local support network. Have a doctor or therapist’s number handy. Call an addiction treatment provider first and get information about admissions.
“Love yourself, even when your condition causes you to do things that seem like you should be embarrassed. You can only do the best you can with this. Elect to have people around you that understand. If they don’t, then that’s their problem, not yours. If you’re afraid to go to the doctor, go. Worst case scenario is they’re going to tell you nothing is wrong with you, and you’re going to have to figure out why else you might be feeling the things you’re feeling.” ~ Tim Z. shares.
Reaching out to professional resources first gives you a better understanding of mental illness. Experienced peers and professionals can teach you the right words to use and the healthiest actions to take. They will have more information about the best ways to approach your loved one or to handle tough situations. With a little help and support, your loved one can find health and happiness, and you can find understanding and balance. When someone you love has a mental illness, you both have the opportunity to heal, grow and move forward!
Graphic courtesy of the author
Guest Author Bio
Alanna Hilbink – Heroes in Recovery
23 million people each year need help for addiction, only three million actually seek treatment. We’re looking to reach the other 20 million– those who may not be seeking help due to the overwhelming stigma that often surrounds substance use and mental health disorders.