Reaching Out with a Helping Hand

It can be difficult to watch a loved one suffer with the symptoms of mental illness, and even harder to talk to that person about getting help. But reaching out to a person in need and showing them that help is available is the right thing to do.

When to speak up
You might not be sure if a person really needs help or is just going through a rough patch. Also, depression and anxiety can manifest themselves differently from person to person and not everyone displays the same symptoms. Be on the look out for changes in behaviors, including:
- sleeping more or less
- disrupted eating habits
- energy loss
- missing work or avoiding social situations
- sadness
- change in weight

If you feel the person might be in danger of self-harm or harming others, the first thing you should do is call 911. For all other circumstances, the best thing to do is find an appropriate time and place to talk about the signs you have noticed, says John Heumann, LCSW, a social worker with Mercy Behavioral Health.

"This might be a time when nobody else is home or it might include a family intervention with a group of family members," Heumann says. "There is no one technique that is preferred over another because each family dynamic is different."

Be supportive
When you talk to your loved one, it's important to be both supportive and firm, emphasizing that you are there to help find support. "Offer to accompany the person to the first appointment with a mental health professional, but allow him or her to make these decisions," Heumann says.

Be sure to emphasize that there are resources available that can help a person overcome mental health issues, but be careful not to overwhelm the person with too much information, says Gina Sykes, a crisis worker in the Mercy Emergency Department.

Point toward professional help
Because many people still feel a great stigma to mental health problems, it is important to make sure the person you are confronting doesn't feel judged and understands that there is nothing to be ashamed of, Sykes says.

"I often say psychiatry is a specialty in medicine," she explained. "When there is a problem with your heart, you go to a cardiologist; when there is a problem with your foot, you go to a podiatrist; and when you are feeling depressed or experiencing mood changes, you see a psychiatrist who is a medical doctor specializing in behavioral health."

For a free consultation and referral to a psychologist, psychiatrist or licensed therapist of Mercy Behavioral Health, call 312.567.2000. People can also receive walk-in crisis counseling and support at the Mercy Emergency Department.

No matter how or where your loved one seeks treatment, the important thing is getting the help he or she needs, and deserves.