What do you do when you begin to notice changes in a loved one's behavior or demeanor? It's easy to simply justify the change with excuses like stress, but sometimes there's another element at work. Sometimes it isn't just a phase or a funk.
As a culture, we hold a negative stigma around mental health. It's taboo to mention things like depression, or therapy. But here's the thing, mental health and wellbeing cannot occur in isolation. And folks, we are a society who isolates when things are tough, especially when those "things" are related to mental health. So how do you approach a loved one to begin the conversation around seeking support?
Share your concern by addressing behavior // I don't know about you, but if someone comes at me saying "You're depressed. Intervention!" I won't give them the time of day. Also, labeling a person as their symptoms can imply judgement. Rather than using phrases like "he's schizophrenic" or "she's depressed" you should externalize the symptoms, thus acknowledging the person behind them. Ex: She struggles with depression. Also, it's never cool to diagnosis your loved ones, so consider starting the conversation with something like:
In the last few months I've noticed some changes in your behavior. You seem less interested in things you've always enjoyed and you've told me that you're not sleeping much. I'm concerned and wondering if you're ok, because you're important to me. If there's anything you want to talk about, I will just listen to you. Whatever is going on, I won't judge you because I love you and I want you to know that you're not alone in this.
Be ready to listen without judgement // Often people won't talk about depression or thoughts of suicide or self-harm for fear that it will be "too much" for someone else to hear. Listen and empathize with their experience. Comments like "it can't be that bad" or "cheer up" can be extremely dismissive to someone who is struggling with depressive symptoms. Imagine what their struggle must feel like and meet them in that place. A comment as simple as "wow that sounds really difficult, thank you for trusting me with this." shows that you can handle their struggle and allows you to become an ally.
Don't be afraid to discuss suicide // There is a common misconception that talking about suicide makes someone more likely to attempt suicide. Generally speaking, this is not the case. If someone is suicidal, discussing it in a safe space can be extremely helpful for building a network of support, creating a safety plan, and if needed, seeking hospitalization. If you know that a loved one has thoughts of suicide or self harm, the simple question of "can you keep yourself safe?" is a great way to assess the situation without judgment or shaming. There are several risk factors to determining the severity of suicidality, but the red flags that you shouldn't ignore are:
- If they have a specific plan of how to end their life
- If they have access to the means to carry out that plan
- If they have had a previous suicide attempt
- If they have a family member who has died by suicide
Here are some important resources that can be good to pass along if needed:
24/7 Crisis Hotline - 512-472-HELP(4357)
APD Mental Health Crisis Intervention Team - 512-854-3450
National Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line - text HELLO to 741741
It's important to know that a single conversation won't solve everything, but it can open the door for seeking support and keep someone from becoming isolated.