Seeking Help: Mental Health Hotline for Families
Dealing with a family member experiencing mental health issues can feel isolating. However, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness. This means that you are not alone if you find yourself in a caregiver role for someone in your family who is having issues. The good news is that families can find a wealth of resources to provide guidance to loved ones on the journey to wellness. You and other family members can play an instrumental role in their recovery process.
How to Support a Family Member with Mental Health Problems
Family members are often among the first people to experience the negative impact of mental problems. As a family member, you can support your loved one by recognizing the early signs of mental health problems, speaking to your loved one about possible options, and connecting your loved one to outside help, such as a mental health hotline.
Why Learn About Mental Health Issues Within Families?
Naturally, a person might want to avoid exploring topics that feel unpleasant. However, learning about mental health problems early can help mitigate the devastating effects of mental issues on families. The benefits of learning about mental health issues can include the following:
- Improved recognition of early warning signs
- Earlier possible diagnosis and treatment
- Greater understanding, compassion, and empathy
- Reduce the stigma of mental health issues within the family
How to Recognize the Early Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems
While many people agree that mental health problems are serious, some individuals also struggle with recognizing the early warning signs of mental health problems. The top signs of mental health issues include changes in personality or behavior. A family member with an issue may exhibit the following:
- Listlessness or feeling little to no energy
- Sudden occurrence of unexplained aches and pains
- Withdrawal from friends, family members, hobbies, or typical routines
- Significant changes in eating or sleeping habits
- Ignoring essential grooming or personal hygiene
- Disoriented or confused thoughts
- Severe mood swings
- Constant worry, anxiety, or excessive fear
- Overwhelming feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
- Persistent thoughts or memories that disrupt everyday life
What are the Suggested Steps for Helping a Family Member?
Although many people are willing to help family members who experience mental health issues, individuals feel unsure about how to start. The first step is to express concern and support without judgment. This mainly involves initiating a talk about mental wellness and reassuring your family member that you care about him or her. Since your family member may currently experience emotional highs and lows, it is crucial to avoid a confrontational approach and be mindful of the timing of the conversation. You can avoid any misinterpretation by asking open-ended questions, actively listening to your loved one’s thoughts and ideas, and providing specific suggestions when it is your turn to talk.
Steps for Initiating the Conversation on Mental Health Issues
Mental health conversations with family members may start with concern over stigma. You can begin by talking about how mental health issues are a problem many people face. You can also mention that lots of people with mental health problems find it easier to begin the recovery process with individuals they trust. To start, find a comfortable place for discussion and begin with questions that allow the family member to express their thoughts openly. Some suggested conversation openers include the following:
- I am worried about you. Can we talk about what you are experiencing? If you feel uncomfortable talking to me, who do you feel comfortable talking with about what you have experienced?
- I care about what you are going through and would like to listen. What do you want me to know about how you are feeling?
- What can I do to help you work through problems with those who live with you?
- It seems that you are going through a tough period. How can I help you find the assistance that you need?
- Who has helped you work through similar problems or occurrences in the past?
- Sometimes, speaking with someone who has gone through a similar situation helps. Can I connect you with someone who has gone through a similar experience?
- I am concerned about your safety and well-being. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?
- I am here to listen. What else can I help you with?
As you can see, the first step is opening the door to discussion. Once you have introduced the discussion, let your loved one speak freely. Engage in active listening by maintaining eye contact and avoiding objections or interruptions. If your loved one finds it helpful, you can also allow them to write their feelings on a notebook or whiteboard. This is a way to express emotions that are harder to verbalize. Writing things down can also be helpful later on when brainstorming solutions.
Steps for Discussing Outreach and Help for Mental Health Issues
After you have introduced the topic and allowed your loved one to express feelings, take the following steps to direct the topic toward accessing resources outside of the family.
- Reassure the family member that you care about him or her.
- Remind the family member that mental health problems are common, help is available, and that mental health issues are treatable. No situation is hopeless.
- Offer to help your family member complete everyday tasks to get back on track.
- Include your family member in your plans, and continue to invite your loved one to outings even if he or she declines. The invitations help reinforce that the person has a valuable role in the family and in your life.
- Agree to educate other family members about the facts of mental health problems and encourage others to practice respect, compassion, empathy, and non-discrimination.
- Remain open-minded. Avoid phrases like “get over it,” “pull yourself together,” “snap out of it,” “toughen up,” or any other comment that your loved one can perceive as condescending or judgmental. Such comments can cause individuals to shut down and delay getting the help that they need.
- Talk about the benefits of resources outside the family, such as a support group or mental health hotline.
Speak in a manner that is appropriate for the family member’s age and developmental level. For example, preschoolers need fewer details than children already in middle school. Teenagers may want to discuss their siblings or parents, and adult family members might want help reconnecting with their spouses. If you feel unable to help family members with specific topics, connect them with a support hotline tailored to their needs.
Watch for reactions during the talk, and slow down if the conversation becomes overly heated. It is helpful to discuss one issue at a time or seek professional help if the conversation becomes counterproductive.
How to Reduce the Family Stigma of Mental Health Problems
When addressing mental health problems, you may find that some people avoid discussing these issues due to a perceived stigma surrounding the topic of mental illness. It is important to remind your loved ones that mental health problems are common. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 50% of U.S. adults will face a mental health crisis during their lifetime. If it helps to draw a comparison, you can also remind your loved one that most adults have come down with physical illnesses that require treatment.
For example, most people have experienced the common cold or flu. Individuals can typically resume normal activities after a few weeks of self-care. However, some people also get sick with severe illnesses like pneumonia. These illnesses can require that the person stop normal activities and seek professional support and help. In some cases, the illness may also require hospitalization. Similarly, the emotions of sadness, anxiety, irritability, anger, or worry can occur temporarily in most individuals. However, intense or prolonged feelings that interfere with relationships can indicate a more serious mental health problem. Just as there is no shame in coming down with a physical illness, there is no shame in identifying and addressing your mental health needs.
You can also remind your loved one that there is no single cause of mental illness. Researchers believe that mental health problems can arise from a variety of circumstances. These can include adverse early childhood experiences, chemical imbalances within the brain, or side effects of chronic medical conditions. Mental health problems can also arise from adulthood stress, loneliness, trauma, or isolation. There are also people who suffer from mental health issues with no identifiable origin.
How to Practice Self-Care While Helping a Family Member with Mental Health Problems
While helping a loved one navigate through mental health issues, it is also important to maintain your own health and well-being. Since supporting your family member requires energy, it is important to actively monitor your health to ensure that you remain in an optimal position to help. Some of the best ways to monitor your own wellness include the following:
Continue to Engage in Topics and Activities Outside of Mental Problems
Remember that most people do not want to be defined by their mental health problems. By encouraging activities that you have always enjoyed together, you can help your loved one see that life is worth living in spite of the challenges. This approach can also help loved ones recognize their identity and self-worth outside of mental health episodes. And in creating a distinction between themselves and the mental health issues, loved ones can then seek treatment to mitigate the problems and start feeling like themselves again. Engaging in normal activities is also self-care because you need time with your loved one that does not focus on mental health issues.
Set Boundaries and Avoid Taking Too Much on at Once
Any discussion of mental health should occur at a time and place that feels safe and comfortable. While it is okay to allow your loved ones to express themselves freely, avoid trying to solve all problems within a short time frame. Instead, agree to address one issue at a time (such as sleep, exercise, or eating patterns). If it is helpful, you can also schedule follow-up sessions to address the remaining issues. You can also direct your loved ones to professional resources if any problems feel beyond your scope of understanding.
Share Your Caring Role With Others
If possible, try to share the load of caring for loved ones with other trustworthy members of the family. In addition to balancing time, these loved ones can also offer a fresh perspective and brainstorm ideas that you may not have come up with yourself. Sharing the load can help with stress management and create a healthy support system within your family.
Talk to Someone Else About How You are Feeling
While you want to provide your loved one with as much support as possible, it is also vital to acknowledge your feelings throughout the process. In fact, it is possible that listening to a family member’s mental health problems can trigger dormant issues or challenges of your own. Consider speaking regularly with a mental health hotline or joining a support group for families on the same road to recovery.
Seeking Hope: National Mental Health Hotline for Families
Facing mental health issues can feel overwhelming at first. The situation is not without hope. Foremost, you should seek immediate help if your family member is in danger of harming themselves. If you need help from an experienced and supportive community, you can also contact the National Mental Health Hotline at mentalhealthhotline.org. This community provides free and confidential assistance for various mental health issues. With a host of resources available, this hotline can direct you to possible treatment options. Instead of navigating the road alone, use the hotline to seek the guidance of a dedicated professional and help your family move toward the life that each person deserves.