How to Approach a Loved One when You Suspect Mental Illness

When someone you love has a mental illness, it can have significant effects on your own physical and mental wellbeing. So how do you go about approaching that person about their possible illness, and then caring for them in the best way for you both?

Jack Heath, chief executive officer of SANE Australia, comments, ‘For some people, caring can be providing emotional support on a daily basis, offering encouragement and ensuring people get the services and treatment they need. For illnesses where the incident is more episodic and you don’t know when the illness might take hold, it’s a question of staying on guard and closely monitoring how your loved one is travelling.’

He adds that you need to be on the look out for suicidal behaviours. ‘The critical sign is seeing a sudden change in behaviour, particularly when someone had been down, frustrated or consistently angry – and then things are suddenly okay,’ Heath says. That can often be a sign that the person has devised a suicide plan and feels they’ve got a way out of their dilemma. Listen out for phrases like “the world would be better off without me” and if they are withdrawing and not engaging in the normal social connections they usually have.’

Jonathan Nicholas, chief executive officer of The Inspire Foundation, explains that mentally unwell men in particular could put family wellness at risk, especially if they’ve been self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. ‘If someone has explosive or persistent anger – a short fuse – that’s a real concern and needs to be addressed, because they could cause harm to someone,’ says Nicholas. ‘They need to know that it’s okay to be angry, but they have to manage their emotions better.’

When you suspect a loved one’s is affected by mental illness or suicidal thoughts, clinical psychologist Dr Suzy Green, from The Positivity Institute, says it’s important to approach the person when you’re both calm. She advises, ‘Ask if they have five minutes to talk. Let them know that your intention is not to be nosey or overstep the mark, but to see if they are okay, because you’ve noticed they’re not themselves lately. Then ask if there is anything you can do to help. They may initially flatly refuse, but if you keep working on the relationship, then over time they may be more willing to open up.’ She adds, ‘While you can be a good listener, you need to gently encourage them to find a mental health professional – we need to lose the stigma of seeking help.’

Comments are closed.