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How Do I Talk To A Loved One About Their Mental Health?

Mental health disorder, also called mental illness, refers to a range of mental health issues or conditions that negatively affect an individual’s thinking, behavior, and mood. 

And although some people are predisposed to mental health problems, the condition can affect anyone, more so after a traumatic experience. 

The worst part about mental health problems is that they are really hard to detect, especially if a victim withdraws socially or from family members. 

While most mental health issues are treatable, failure to seek professional assistance early enough can lead to negative coping mechanisms such as drug dependence, which exacerbates the issue and makes things harder for both the victim and family members. 

If it’s the first time dealing with a loved one you suspect has an underlying mental illness, initiating the conversation can prove hard. 

Worry not, though, as It’s perfectly normal to wonder where to start or which direction to take the conversation, especially if the victim is in denial. 

So if you’re wondering how to talk to a loved one about their mental health, then you couldn’t be in a better place! 

Read on as we take a closer look at mental illnesses, their symptoms, how to talk about the issue, and most importantly, how to help your loved one overcome the condition

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More About Mental Illnesses 

According to statistics provided by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), almost 1 in 5 US adults experience a form of mental illness every year. Additionally, 1 in 24 US adults is diagnosed with a serious mental illness every year. 

Unfortunately, mental illness is often viewed as a permanent medical condition with irreversible effects. While some mental illnesses are yet to have a cure, all mental conditions can be maintained with the right medical attention. 

The stigma associated with mental health problems has made many victims withdraw socially and abstain from discussing their issues. 

However, if not addressed and treated promptly, mental health issues can affect an individual’s relationships and emotional well-being. 

Types of Mental Disorders 

There are several types of mental disorders that can affect anyone at any given time. Let’s take a quick look at some commonly diagnosed mental disorders. 

Anxiety Disorders: These types of disorders elicit a negative reaction when a victim is exposed to certain situations or objects. Some of the common types of anxiety disorders include panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, and generalized anxiety disorder

Mood Disorders: Also known as affective disorders, mood disorders are characterized by persistent sorrow or grief (alone) or combined with short periods of happiness. Mood disorders often cause a fluctuation between extreme sadness and extreme joy. Examples include depression, bipolar disorders, and cyclothymic disorder

Psychotic Disorders: These disorders are mainly characterized by distorted thinking or awareness. Victims often hallucinate or become delusional when the episodes kick in. Schizophrenia is among the most common psychotic disorders. 

Personality Disorders: People diagnosed with personality disorders have inflexible, often unhealthy thoughts, behaviors, and patterns that often pose serious relationship issues. Borderline personality disorder is a common type of personality disorder. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a common mental illness that often occurs after a traumatic experience like sexual assault, natural disaster, death of a loved one, accidents, and even physical assaults. 

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD): People with OCD struggle to maintain specific routines or observe repetitive rituals due to fears, anxiety, or disturbing thoughts of something that might happen in case the routines are broken. 

Symptoms of Mental Disorders 

Mental health disorders manifest in different ways. However, there are specific red flags that often point out towards an underlying mental health issue. Let’s take a look at the common signs of mental illnesses. 

Social Withdrawal 

One of the main signs of mental health issues is withdrawal. You’ll find that someone who was once social becomes completely withdrawn to the point of total isolation. 

And although some people are naturally introverts, you should be concerned if they retract from activities they once loved. 

You’ll know that a loved one is isolating themselves when they withdraw from friends and family members they were once close to. 

Excessive Fear or Worry

While it’s normal to worry every now and then, persistent fear and extreme worry could signal an underlying mental illness. 

Several mental disorders manifest as exaggerated worry, meaning you should take action if a loved one has become extremely worried about life outcomes. 

Prolonged Anger or Irritability

Another sign that a loved one has an underlying mental disorder is prolonged irritability or feelings of unknown anger. 

Remaining angry for several days or weeks after resolving an issue might indicate there’s a mental illness that needs professional attention. 

You’ll also know that a loved one has a mental illness if they’ve become increasingly irritable, especially when irked by the slightest of issues. 

Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Another sign that a loved one has an underlying mental health issue is if they resort to drug and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism.

A loved one might start drinking excessively or abusing prescription drugs. And although it might be hard to know if someone with a mental illness is abusing drugs, there are several ways to detect the issues. 

It could be that an individual is always intoxicated, broke (as a result of buying drugs), untidy, or constantly hungover. 

Suicidal Thoughts 

In some cases, people with mental health issues can develop suicidal thoughts once hopelessness and desperation kick in. 

Therefore, if a loved one suddenly becomes disinterested in life, chances are you could be dealing with a mental health issue. 

Inability to Tackle Day-to-Day Activities 

Mental illnesses can greatly affect how individuals function. People with advanced mental issues will often struggle to perform basic activities that were once tackled with ease. 

For instance, a loved one might experience difficulties working, studying, and maintaining personal hygiene

The inability to handle these issues is usually associated with a change in mood and behavior, which often result from mental health issues. 

Concentration Difficulties 

If a loved one has persistent concentration difficulties, chances are they might be struggling with underlying mental issues. 

Concentration problems are usually a common symptom of most mental illnesses, and you’ll know the situation is dire if the victim appears confused or completely estranged. 

Issues with concentration usually lead to more problems and should therefore be tackled as fast as possible. For instance, poor concentration can lead to underperformance in school or work activities. 

Concentration problems can also lead to safety hazards such as the risk of injury when handling heavy machinery. 

Appetite Changes

Is your loved one eating more than usual? Or have they completely lost appetite to the extent of rapid weight loss? 

Rapid weight loss (or gain) is usually associated with illness and often points to mental health problems if there are no other physical health issues diagnosed.

You might want to recommend a visit to the doctor if your loved one eats too much or has lost appetite and struggles to feed. 

How You Can Talk To A Loved One About Mental Health

When you suspect a loved one is struggling with their mental health, it is important to help them address the issue as early as possible. Talking to your loved one about their mental health is a great first step to helping them recover or better manage their underlying issue. 

Below are tips to observe when talking to a friend or family member about their mental health. 

Choose An Appropriate Time

Timing is everything when setting up conversations. When and how you approach an individual plays a huge role in their response and attitude towards the discussion. 

As such, you should make a point of choosing the best time possible to have the conversation. This means timing when the victim is not occupied with other activities or when the moods appear positive and welcoming.

Early mornings work well for some, while others prefer doing it over lunch or an evening coffee. Whatever time you prefer, changing the environment can help set a positive tone and take the conversation in a good direction. 

Start with A Timeline

When discussing the mental health issue, the best approach is to start with a timeline. This means highlighting when you think the issues started, which then allows you to state how you feel the individual has changed since the event. 

Stating a timeline gives the victim an opportunity to track back and put your issues into perspective. This creates a wonderful foundation for the conversation, ensuring you’ll both be on the same page moving forward. 

Be Gentle and Compassionate

As you continue powering through the conversation, it’s crucial to be as compassionate and gentle as possible. This means stating the changes you’ve observed gently as opposed to taking an aggressive approach. 

It’s also advisable to put yourself in the victim’s shoes and come off as understanding instead of judgmental. 

If you’re highlighting negative changes such as extreme weight loss or gain, try to deliver the news as gently as possible. The same applies to behavioral changes that might result from the mental health issue. 

Be An Active Listener

Initiating the conversation doesn’t mean bossing through the entire talk. You must allow your loved one enough time to speak and address the issues you’ve highlighted. 

However, for best outcomes, it is best to listen actively, which means paying attention and listening to the other party without any distractions. 

You should also have positive body language when listening. This means maintaining an upright posture, nodding in agreement, and maintaining eye contact

Active listening also entails summarizing some of the key issues highlighted to ensure you’re on the same page with the individual. You can also ask open-ended questions to encourage your loved one to share more about the issue at hand. 

Avoid Comparisons

The last thing you want to tell a person struggling with mental illness is that someone else was there and behaved (or reacted) differently. People undergoing mental struggles need all the support they can get, and comparisons will only worsen things! 

Instead of comparing issues or situations, try to relate with the individual’s problem. Your role is to make your loved one feel comfortable enough to vent or air out problematic issues. 

If you’ll have to talk about a similar situation (like your own battle with depression), use it to provide encouragement and not undermine what your loved one is going through. 

Ask How You Can Help

Asking a loved one with mental health issues how you can be of help will not only create a safe sharing environment but also allow you to come up with viable solutions. 

And if an individual declines your help, you shouldn’t be too forceful. Instead, you can dish out suggestions you believe will help address the situation. 

For instance, you can suggest seeking professional treatment. And to make the suggestion even more attractive, you can also promise to go with them and provide support throughout the treatment journey. 

Can Mental Health Issues Lead to Drug Dependency?

If not treated early enough, mental health problems can lead to negative coping mechanisms such as reliance on drugs and alcohol. The more an individual relies on drugs to cope with the symptoms of mental issues, the greater the chances of addiction. 

The best way to prevent drug addiction when dealing with mental health issues is to seek professional assistance as early as possible. Talking to a loved one about the symptoms and their negative effects will ensure they receive treatment for the underlying problems, effectively eliminating the risks of addiction. 

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Don't go through the process of recovery alone. There are people who can help you with the struggle you're facing. Get in touch with one today.

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What Should I Do If A Loved One with Mental Illness Is Addicted to Drugs?

If a loved one struggling with mental illness is addicted to drugs, the best way to address both conditions is to enroll in a licensed drug rehab. 

Most rehabs treat co-occurring disorders, which ensures your loved one receives treatment for the underlying mental issue and the addiction. 

Contact a rehab center today to inquire about their services and whether they treat co-occurring disorders. 

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