Encouraging a Loved One to Seek Professional Help

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“I am concerned about someone whom I think is suffering from depression. I would like him to seek help, but I am afraid bringing it up will make things worse for him and affect our relationship”

The above is a common query that our practice often receive in our email or through private message. Indeed, it can be a challenge to convince someone who needs help to come forward. Mental illness is treatable, but statistics show that only one in three people with mental illness receive the help that they need. So how do you speak to your loved one to encourage him/her to seek help?

There are two principles to remember when you are encouraging someone to seek help: (i) show genuine concern, and (ii) be nonjudgmental.

1) Choose an appropriate time to raise the issue with him.

Do not bring it up when he is playing games on his handphone or when he is angry. Choose a time where he can give you his fullest attention. Tell him that you have something important to discuss with him so that you can gain his attention and show him how concerned you are.

2) Express your concern and use "I...." sentences instead of "You...".

For example, you can say, "I am worried that you haven't been yourself" instead of, "You haven't been yourself lately. Another example would be, "I am afraid that you might hurt yourself if you do not seek help" instead of, "You might hurt yourself if you do not seek help". Approaching the issue as something you both have to overcome as a team will reduce the guilt or shame your loved one may be feeling.

3) Share your observations

Do not use labels, such as “You are depressed” or “You are an alcoholic”. Say, “You are significantly less cheerful now and you have lost so much weight” or “You drank 5 cans of beer last night, and you needed a few more when you woke up this morning”. Provide the facts on why you feel they need help, and remember to supplement these facts with your genuine concern.

4) You can expect him to defensive or even angry.

However, do not criticize him and continue to show your concern.

5) Facilitate the help-seeking process by helping to find a professional and scheduling an appointment.

You also may offer to pay for his first consultation fees to show your support and how serious you are. You can assure him the consultation is to help him understand his situation and provide him with better idea of what help he will receive. He can choose not to continue if he doesn't want to. However, attending a first consultation increases the likelihood that your loved one will continue with the next steps in recovery. This is because the psychologist would be able to provide him with insight into the problem during the first session and clarify any doubts that he may have about therapy.

6)Turn up for the appointment even if your loved one changes his mind after agreeing, or still refuses to seek help

You can still turn up for the appointment without him. You will learn more about what he is going through, and how you can better support him. He will also be curious to know how the session without him turn out. Hearing from the psychologist through you, and seeing the changes that you make to be able to better support him better will further encourage him to come forward.

Categories: Seeking Help
Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil

About the Author

Haikal received his Master degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS), under a full scholarship awarded by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS). Before entering private practice, he has gained much experience in both hospital and social services settings.

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