“My sister will not seek treatment. What kinds of things can my family and I do or say that will help and not hurt?”
This is the question that came to me this past spring at the Faith Communities and Mental Health conference in Chapel Hill, NC.
Chances are that we all know someone who may be in need of professional help but for whatever reason isn’t ready for it.
It’s a tough spot to be in:
- Watching a loved one in the depths of depression and not knowing how to pull them out.
- Standing by with feelings of helplessness when mom can’t stop downing the chardonnay every night until she passes out.
- Feeling like you may lose your own mind when your teenager's manic episode won’t subside and you just can’t seem to back him off the emotional ledge.
How do we respond to those who are suffering without making things worse and making ourselves feel even crazier in the process?
Find a place of empathy. Empathy does not mean that we have been exactly where the other person is. It does however mean that we can identify on some level with the emotion that the person is feeling. I’ve often found it helpful to say, “I’ve not experienced what you are going through exactly but I do know what it feels like to be helpless/distressed/depressed/etc. and yeah, it sucks.” Oftentimes, identifying with the emotion is an empathetic response that will allow the person to feel not so alone.
Don’t be quick to offer advice. No one likes to be lectured to. Starting a conversation with, “you need therapy” or “why don’t you just get out of bed?” will probably only serve to alienate the person even more. We all want to feel supported, not ostracized or blamed for our current situation.
Offer solutions that can be received. Sometimes, the best that a person can do is make a very small step. That might look like investigating a support group or therapist online with no commitment of going. It also might look like trying to get out of bed a little sooner than what she has been. Or it could be just being open to research a holistic therapy or non-narcotic medication that might alleviate symptoms and stabilize the person until they can make the next step.
Finally, love unconditionally. Love is more oftentimes something we do than something we say. Sitting in silence with another person can be deeply healing the other person. Just being present and available to meet our loved one where they are can go a long way.
All of the above will look different for each person based on their situation and need. So when in doubt, check in with a professional or trusted expert who can give further guidance.
But by all means, check in. Let your loved one that as cliché as it may sound, “this too shall pass.” Healing and recovery are possible with time and consistent support.
Hold a space of hope for those in your life. One of the most powerful things a friend ever said to me was, “I know you can’t believe for yourself right now, but you don’t have to. I’ll believe for you until you are at a place when you can do so for yourself.” Those words took the pressure off and allowed me to just "be", until I could believe and act for myself. The same is possible for you and your loved one too.