By Chad Ernest, MS, LPC
Believe it or not, we don’t all have the answers. We may go to friends or family for advice or even give advice to others, but we don’t always know the answers. If you were married with kids, would you go to your single friends for parenting advice? If you were single, would you go to your friends who were in a committed relationship for ten years for dating advice? If you thought your parents were horrible at certain things when raising you, would you ask them for parenting advice? When you don’t know something or aren’t sure, or something is wrong or bothering you, who do you talk too? Where do you go?
There is nothing wrong with asking for help. We all need it from time to time. However, there is a stigma associated with asking for help from others, especially a counselor. It is viewed as a sign of weakness to seek help. We also have fear around asking for help in a society where we are taught to be rugged individualists who should know how to survive on their own. That’s a load of bull. Show me a self-made millionaire and I will show you all the people, advice, education, infrastructure, time, and other people’s money that helped that millionaire along the way. Ideas are great, but without others to help, it goes nowhere. If no one bought an Apple computer, where would iPhones be now? Steve Jobs had to get help to make his vision happen. In order to do that he had to ask for help from his friends, investors and others with business knowledge.
So we know that everyone needs help from time to time, even the most successful people. Did you know that only one out of every three or about 33% of people with a mental health issue seek help? What is interesting is that if someone has some physical ailment like a severe stomach ache, they will see a doctor to seek relief. Do you know what percentage of adults visited a health care professional in 2011? 82.6%, it is higher for children at 92.6%. There is no stigma associated with seeing a doctor if you cut your finger and need stitches. If someone is depressed and locked in their room for days at a time, they don’t think to seek help from others. Granted some of that has to do with the nature of depression, but that brings us to the topic of this article, telling someone else that they need to see a counselor…albeit in a nice, respectful, encouraging way.
Not everyone recognizes that they have a problem. Some people were raised in a household where yelling and hitting children and each other was the norm. When you are a child in that home, you have a tendency to grow up, seek out a partner that responds like you saw your parents respond, and repeat that process with your own family, unless of course, you get help to break the cycle of abuse by learning to do something different. Some people live on their own and have no one else around to point out that they are not supposed to be up all night cleaning their house obsessively with a toothbrush at 3 am or had to check the lock on the door exactly 12 times before going to bed. Sometimes it is nothing this extreme, maybe it is just having a child who is really active and difficult to handle and not being sure what to do or where to go for help.
Here are some clear cut signs that someone needs help: they are talking about suicide, attempting suicide (National Suicide Hotline # is 1-800-273-8255), harming themselves in some way, shape or form (cutting, scratching, hitting self, etc.), harming others and animals physically (punching, kicking, biting, etc.), sexually (touching inappropriately, forcing sex, rape, incest, etc.) or even psychologically (calling names, acting cruelly towards others, neglectful of children and animals, threatening others etc.). Other instances include people who are experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations where they are hearing and seeing things. In these particular cases, we should be encouraging people with these issues to seek help immediately. You may even have to call the authorities yourself in some circumstances where you feel in danger or take them to an emergency room to get help.
So how do you tell someone they need help? “Hey you, get help!” Not sure that is going to fly for most people. First off it would beneficial to identify why you want to tell them to get help. Is it some personal reason, is it genuinely something they need help with, are they just annoying you? Being clear on why you want them to get help is good. If it is a problem that impacts multiple areas of their lives and clearly is causing distress to everyone around them, then you are on the right track.
Let’s say, for an example, you have a friend or family member who is hitting her kids, but you don’t want to interfere because you are single and don’t have children. It is not your business to tell her how to raise her children (see the first paragraph: parents don’t seek parenting advice from single friends or family with no children). Pick a good time and place to talk with them, preferable not in the middle of a chaotic situation like when they are putting the children to bed. You can article drop, “hey I read this great article the other day on stress free parenting, thought you would be interested. It is by a local family therapist. Here check it out.” Or, “Hey sis, parenting looks really stressful, I always see that you are upset with the kids and don’t seem happy. Have you thought about seeking some help from a therapist? I could help check out a few for you if you like?”
Did you see what happened in the above examples? They were empathetic statements, which means that when you talk to someone that clearly has an identifiable problem and you want to get them help, you have to let them know that you see how they are feeling. If someone is depressed for example, you say something to the effect of, “You seem to be really down lately.” That is an empathetic statement. Then when you have them engaged in talking with you, you can add, “What’s going on? Anything I can do to help you? I may know someone you can talk to.”
Often time’s people may get upset that you are talking about a problem that they are having. Try not to get defensive if they start denying or turning it back on you. Utilize I statements, such as, “I am really concerned about you,” or “I see that this is really difficult for you, but I really want you to get help so that you don’t have to struggle so much.” You could also let them know it is because you love them or that you are concerned about their relationships with their children, or partner, or their job. Find those relationships that they are connected to in their lives that will help motivate them to seek help to get better. Sometime it is about others before it becomes about them working on themselves.
After talking to someone about getting help, offer to help them find it. Don’t expect that they are going to do it all on their own, otherwise they would have likely already sought help. Help them do some research and find a counselor that will help them with their situation. If money is an issue, check to see if their insurance will cover it, if not perhaps you could offer to help pay for it, or find a counselor who uses a sliding scale (fees based on income amounts).
The most important thing that you can do after all of these things, is be supportive and follow up with your friend or family member. Being encouraging and demonstrating unconditional love with someone can go a long way to helping them reach a place of balance and stability in their lives. People need others who are in their corner during the bad times as well as the good times. If you are someone who can sit down with a friend or family member to discuss their mental health issues, or even parenting, or relationship struggles, then you may already be someone who really cares about helping your friends and family become healthier and happier. Hopefully this article can help give you the strength you need to help others find the best solutions for their issues.