Mental Illness

How to get help for a Mentally Ill Family Member

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"How to get help for a Mentally Ill Family Member"
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When a member of your family exhibits behaviors that suggest the possibility of mental illness, reaching out to get help can seem overwhelming. Your success at connecting a family member with the kinds of services needed to treat his mental illness depends heavily on his cooperation and your awareness of available services. Mental health disciplines abound and finding your way through the myriad of choices can be perplexing if you are unfamiliar with the options available.

There are a number of trained professionals in the field of mental health. Whether you choose a licensed professional counselor, psychologist, or the services of a psychiatrist is not nearly as important as finding a mental health practitioner with expertise in the area that you are seeking.  However, if there is a likelihood that your loved one may require medication, a psychiatrist can often be the most direct route for getting help.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who treat mental illness. Sometimes they primarily prescribe and oversee medication management, but you may be fortunate enough to locate a practitioner who will also treat with various forms of psychotherapy intended to address emotional, cognitive, and behavioral issues. Your psychiatrist may also choose to diagnose, prescribe medications, and then refer your family member to a clinical social worker or licensed counselor for psychotherapy. He may also recommend that you have additional testing done with the help of a licensed psychologist.

Many individuals resort to the local yellow pages to find help for a mentally ill loved one.  This can be a tricky solution since, like in every profession, there are both excellent and poor practitioners.  A personal referral from your family physician or a recommendation from a close friend can provide you with a measure of reassurance about the reputation and efficacy of a particular mental health professional.

When a family member is resistant to getting help your options are severely limited.  It can be a very helpless feeling to watch someone you care about struggle with anxiety or depression and be unable to convince him to seek help. If your loved one poses an imminent threat to himself or others, his mental health may be in a state of crisis.  If this is the case, your first and best line of defense is to contact local emergency services for immediate help in stabilizing him. 

Family members who suffer with chronic forms of mental illness sometimes respond to a unified confrontation by loved ones and significant friends. A select group of those who are trusted and respected tackle the difficult task of trying to get an individual to face up to the negative impact of his illness in his life and in the lives of those around him. This is often referred to as an “intervention” and is a tough love approach to getting a family member to accept help for. An intervention is usually conducted with the help of a professional who is knowledgeable and skilled in facilitating the process.

If you are going to get help for a mentally ill family member, investigate your options first.  Once you have located the specific services that you believe are needed, the rest is up to your loved one as long as he can safely choose for himself. If the decision must be made on an emergency basis, immediately arrange for transport of your family member to the closest community mental health facility or emergency room for assessment and initial stabilization. In the days and weeks ahead your research into treatment options can be an invaluable resource and provide support for a loved one who needs ongoing treatment for mental illness. 


More about this author: Dr. Deborah Bauers