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Text by carer advocate Amy Kemp - Carer Advocate at One Door
People are getting better at asking each other, are you okay? They know to listen without judgement and encourage others to seek professional support if they need it. But for a million reasons, these conversations don’t always go smoothly.
Sometimes people don’t want to talk about how they feel, or they’re too embarrassed, or they don’t believe talking to a professional could make things better, or in some circumstances, they aren’t aware that they may be experiencing a mental health issue.
Few of us like being told what to do. Hearing what we “should” or “ought” to do can feel invalidating and condescending, and may elicit a range of negative emotions, including shame, guilt, and anger. Many people on the receiving end of unsolicited advice may pull away from those giving their two cents so as not to feel worse about themselves—and to preserve their own agency, autonomy, and independence.
What’s more, continuously being told what to do—or how to do it—can be an added source of stress for someone who is already struggling to manage as is.
Research tells us that abandoning our impulse to compel, coerce, shame, or guilt someone into changing a problematic behaviour is a much better bet. But this doesn’t mean abandoning someone or just standing by as their mental health issue overtakes them. Your odds of successfully motivating someone to seek the help they need increases when you stop forcing your own agenda upon them—and try to gain a better understanding of theirs.
It’s important to remember that people are in charge of their own lives and we can never change another person’s behaviour for them.
So, what do you do when you’ve raised your concerns but your loved one chooses not to seek support? There’s no magic spell that will get them talking but here are some ideas that might help nudge them towards the support they need:
Be vulnerable yourself. You don’t want to make the entire conversation about you, but sharing some of your own hard times can make it easier for them to do the same.
Talk about life, not diagnoses. It’s not your job to diagnose their symptoms. But helping them understand the impact the symptoms are having on their life can build motivation to change things. Help them see that life doesn’t have to be this hard. Help them imagine an easier future.
Mix it up. If your approach isn’t working, try changing your communication style. If you’re usually firm, try being softer. If you’re normally more sensitive, try a direct approach.
Be humble. Is someone else better placed to have this conversation? Who might the person you care for be more inclined to talk to?
Play the long game and continue to be supportive. It can take many conversations, over time, until someone is ready to open up. Without pressuring, be consistent and persistent.
Stay connected anyway. Don’t make your relationship conditional on them seeking support and don’t avoid them.
Offer help and provide reassurance. Communicating to them that you aren’t there to judge them but are simply there to understand and support them helps convey to them that you’re on their side—and won’t further shame them or ostracize them for needing help.
Become informed. Do a bit of research into what help is available in your area that could be useful for the person you care for. That way, if they decide they’re ready to seek help, you’ll be able to give them some direction about who to go and see.
Don’t force the issue or put pressure on them. If you try to pressure or force on someone to get help, it may come from a good place, but it can actually have the opposite effect to what you intend and could turn the person off seeking help altogether.
Listen and validate. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to just listen. Ask them what's going on and just reflect what they say. Help them feel heard.
Ask questions. Ask your loved one what they want. You can't push someone to do something unless they want to do it too. But you can find out what they want, and find ways to support them towards their goals in a way that you both can agree on.
Explore options together. If someone says "I don't want to do this," then you're probably going to make more difficult for yourself (and for them) by demanding it. You might say, "Ok. Let's not do that...what is something you do want to do?"
Talk to someone yourself. You need to look after yourself too because it’s hard to see someone you care about going through a tough time. It can be really frustrating, and make you feel helpless, if a person you care for won’t let you help them. Talk through how you’re feeling with someone you trust.
To wrap up, you can’t force someone to change. But by steering away from shaming, blaming, or moralizing and, instead, trying the above techniques you can help someone tap into their own motivation to change, help them better articulate what they may need in order to seek help to begin with, and support them in their efforts to learn how to change and to prepare for change.
While, in most circumstances, it's a good idea to give a person time to come around to the idea of seeking help, if you think someone is in danger or is at risk as a result of what’s going on, it’s important that you seek help immediately. See the last page for crisis contact numbers.
Photo by whoislimos on Unsplash