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Your Loved One is Struggling with Mental Health … Now What? 

Dr. Ivy Patt. Courtesy photo

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this article has been submitted by Ivy S. Patt, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist in West Hartford, CT for over 15 years and co-founder of MellaHealth, LLC.

By Ivy S. Patt

“She is always in her room.”

“He has been declining to join us on outings.” 

“They always seem down and have a negative response to everything…..”

When you notice behavior and mood changes in loved ones, it can be hard to identify if it’s just a phase, or if they could use some extra support with their emotional well-being. It can be even more difficult for the person suffering from emotional turmoil to identify their own need for care, and they may rely on supportive friends and family to help them realize they would benefit from therapy and/or medication. There are a few signs to look for that can help you identify their need for mental health care and some helpful ways to facilitate connecting them to professional treatment.

Symptoms to look for

The words “stressed,” “depressed,” “anxious,” and “traumatic” are terms thrown around carelessly in our culture.

It is often challenging to assess distress – is it just a bad day/rough week, or is a higher level of support needed? So, what do you look for to know when it’s time to bring up the topic of professional help?

A change in typical patterns is an important factor to consider. Is this a social person who is declining opportunities to be with people? Is your loved one someone who always made it to work and has been taking a lot of days off? Do you notice that the friend or relative reports feeling exhausted and not sleeping when they typically sleep just fine? Consistent deviations in typical routines and behaviors could be a sign that your loved one is struggling with their mental wellness.

Functioning is the ability to complete basic daily tasks. If your loved one is having difficulty with managing their personal hygiene, the care and maintenance of their living space, or maintaining a regular diet, it may be a sign that they are struggling with their mental health. As you assess whether there has been a change in behavior and if their functioning is impaired, you may also want to assess the length of the disruption.

Ongoing difficulties lasting two weeks or more may indicate that your close friend or relative is experiencing persistent challenges could benefit from the guidance of a mental health professional.

Talking about treatment

It can be difficult to talk to your loved one about seeking mental health support. You may be worried that suggesting therapy indicates that you do not want to listen to their problems anymore, and/or that your loved one will withdraw or reject your idea.

It is important to approach your conversation about mental healthcare from an empathetic and understanding perspective. Speak with your loved one in a private, quiet space. Use “I” statements to share how you are feeling and that you are concerned. You may want to suggest that you will support them in finding someone to help, and accompany them to the first appointment. 

Normalizing the use of mental health counseling by talking about your own experience or someone else who benefitted may help reduce stigma, which can be a barrier to seeking treatment. By listening actively and showing your patience, you can collaborate to identify the best professional support system for them. 

Accessing mental health treatment

When your loved one is ready to proceed with professional treatment for their mental health condition, there are a few factors to consider.

Availability for mental health appointments is an important detail to evaluate. Before making the call, have a conversation with them around their preference for appointments to facilitate ease of making an appointment. Do they prefer an appointment at a physical office or a virtual option? Does your friend/relative have access to the necessary transportation to get to a physical office? Will they have privacy at their home or office for a virtual appointment? What day(s) of the week and time of day would work best for them to meet with a therapist?

Cost is another important factor in seeking the best-fit professional care. There are many options for reducing the cost of mental health treatment including using a provider who is in-network with insurance, finding a practitioner who offers a sliding scale for treatment costs, or reaching out to nonprofit organizations for mental health support. 

Type of treatment is an additional relevant variable to consider. Based on the level of severity and the nature of the mental health issue, different types of treatment may best address the symptoms. Some options include seeing a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner for an evaluation for medication,working individually with a therapist, group therapy (often offered as a support group), or a higher level care involving a more comprehensive treatment program (called intensive outpatient program – IOP).  If your loved one’s safety is in danger, contacting mobile crisis (988) or visiting the emergency room and subsequent hospitalization may be the safest and most direct approach to getting them started on a path to feeling better.  If you are not sure which of these types of treatment is the right fit, consider contacting your primary care physician or meeting with a licensed therapist to further assess your loved one’s treatment needs.

Once you have identified the logistics of mental health support, you will need to find the best-fit practitioner. Psychology Today is an excellent resource for finding a therapist, psychiatrist, or support group in their area. If your loved one would benefit from psychotherapy, MellaHealth is a West Hartford based private practice therapy group that accepts all major insurance plans, and helps each client match with their best-fit therapist.

In connecting a loved one to professional mental health treatment, you are offering them an opportunity to directly address their mental health challenges. As part of their journey to improved well being, you are and will continue to be an essential component to their wellness in your key role as a loving, supportive person in their daily life.

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