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Talking About Mental Health with a Loved One
Mental Health

Talking About Mental Health with a Loved One

By Your Health Staff
Posted: May 29, 2024

If you have a family member or close friend who may have untreated mental health issues, it can feel challenging to talk to them about it. Should you suggest they get help? Is there anything you can say that will make a difference? Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has some recommendations for talking about mental health issues with your loved ones.

"Having a conversation with your loved one is the first step in letting them know you care about what happens to them and getting them the help they need," says David Atkinson, Director of Behavioral Health at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. "The support you provide can be invaluable."

How to Know It's Time to Talk

You know your loved one better than most, so you may feel something is wrong. However, people with mental health conditions often display some warning signs, including:

  • Changes in appearance
  • Changes in eating, sleeping or sex habits
  • Confused or delusional thinking
  • Excessive anxiety or worry
  • Extreme sadness or irritability
  • Inability to handle daily activities
  • Increased aggression or anger
  • Issues with school or work performance
  • Lack of personal care
  • Mood changes
  • Overuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Paranoia
  • Talk of suicide or how things would be better without them around
  • Withdrawal from activities or friends they once enjoyed

If your loved one has one or more of these warning signs of mental illness, reaching out to a mental health professional or a medical professional, such as your primary care provider, is a good first step.


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Starting the Conversation

"Conversations about mental health can feel awkward or even taboo," Atkinson says. "But if you're worried your family member has a mental health disorder such as addiction, depression, schizophrenia or an eating disorder, ignoring the disorder won't make it go away."

Don't let yourself become too intimidated to bring the topic up with your loved one. If you're stuck trying to figure out what to do, try some of these tips to get started:

Avoid Being Judgmental

Mental illness and addiction are illnesses, just like cancer. Their resulting struggles and problematic behaviors are not necessarily personal failings.

Don't Offer a Diagnosis

Don't pressure your loved one to talk, and don't offer a diagnosis, even if you think you know what the problem is.

Encourage Them to Get Help

Have the resources on hand to make it easy for them to schedule an appointment with their primary care provider or a mental health professional.

Express Your Concerns, Then Listen

Let your loved one guide the conversation at their own pace. Don't pressure them to talk.

Find a Time to Talk with no Distractions

Turn off the television, put the phones in another room and sit down when you both have the time for a conversation.

Know When to Stop Talking

If the person is upset, confused or overwhelmed, pause and resume the conversation another time.

If your loved one is not yet ready to talk, keep an open-ended conversation going. Remind them that many people struggle with similar challenges and that you're willing to help them find help whenever they're ready.

When Your Loved One Is in Crisis

If your family member is in crisis, such as having a psychotic break or threatening suicide, it's important that you remain calm. Remember to:

  • Ask how you can help.
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Call or text 988, the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
  • Call 911 or your police department's non-emergency phone number, inform the dispatcher that you have a mental health emergency and request a CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) if one is available.
  • Encourage them to call a professional.

Take Care of Yourself Too

Whether your loved one is in crisis or just showing possible signs of a milder mental health issue, feeling stressed and overwhelmed is understandable. It's essential for you to take care of your own mental health during these times. The better you feel, the better you will be able to help your loved one.

Self-care measures to try to include:

Avoid Alcohol

A drink might relieve stress in the short term but can worsen it in the long term.

Eat a Healthy Diet

Fresh foods can boost your energy and mood.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise is a proven stress reliever.

Get Enough Sleep

A good night's sleep is important to prevent exhaustion.

Joining a Support Group

Others who have been through what you are dealing with can provide helpful advice.

Relax and Recharge

A hot bath, long walk, meditation or night at the movies can help restore your serenity.

Talk to Your Friends

Pick up the phone and share what's happening with a trusted confidante.

"The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone," Atkinson says. "As isolated as you may feel during this worrisome time, there are friends, support groups and therapists who are willing to listen and help."

If your loved one is experiencing severe mental health issues, the Behavioral Health Center at Methodist North Hospital is here for your family. Contact us today.

The Dennis H. Jones Living Well Network can also offer resources, behavioral health care referrals and support to those experiencing mental health issues, as well as their families. Contact them at or call 901.762.8558.

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