You can’t make someone get help for a mental illness problem. It is that person’s decision, unless he or she is actively psychotic or suicidal, in which case you can call the police or take the person to an emergency room, if possible.
But other than that, all you can really do is assist another person in getting the treatment he or she needs. There’s still a lot you can try.
Let’s say, for example, that Jill notices her partner Jack seems depressed and the depression has lasted several months or worsened over time. Maybe he is moody, sleeps too much, doesn’t seem to enjoy anything, and hardly talks to her. Maybe Jack spends too much money that they can’t afford. Maybe he talks about death.
Jill knows a little something about mental health issues and realizes that Jack is in trouble. What can she do?
Listen. If Jack communicates at all, Jill listens to what he says. She should especially listen for clues that might indicate suicidal ideation. But she also listens carefully to any problem Jack discusses: “I miss the house I grew up in, now that it’s been sold.” “I think the people at work are talking about me and laughing at me.” “I don’t want to wake up in the morning.”
Encourage him to go to his primary care physician. PCPs are the first line of defense in dealing with mental health problems. The doctor may administer a depression screening checklist. She may prescribe antidepressant medication. If Jack wants her to, Jill can go into the doctor’s office with him. He may need help expressing his feelings and talking about his symptoms.
Proactively encourage him to seek help. This can also be called, or seem like, nagging. But if Jack continues to suffer symptoms, Jill reminds him that help is available and that she will help him get that help: “You feel miserable all the time. Don’t you want to feel not-miserable, like you used to?” “You know how much therapy and meds have done for me. They could do the same for you.” “Your friend John is also concerned about you. He and I both think you need help.”
Investigate options. Considering that Jack is immobilized by his suffering, Jill researches local therapists who are taking new clients, who take their insurance (if any), and who deal with mood disorders. Community mental health clinics shouldn’t be overlooked. Jill makes a list of four or five possibilities.
Extract a promise. Jill’s observations make her frightened for Jack’s safety. She gives him a deadline and gets him to promise to call someone on the list of therapists by Monday, say. This is also proactive encouragement.
Go with him to the first (intake) appointment. Jill drives Jack to the office and waits for him while he sees the therapist. Afterward, she asks general questions: “How did it go?” “Did you like her?” She doesn’t ask for details. Those are between Jack and his therapist.
Facilitate. Now that Jack is getting help, Jill helps him keep track of appointments, medications, and the like. These may seem like things Jack could do for himself, but until his mood changes, he may need her help in following through.
Of course, the helper and the helpee in this scenario can be of either sex. They may have a romantic, sexual, or family relationship – or not. The important thing is that someone be willing to take on the role of helper until the partner, mother, son, friend, or whoever gets enough help to take over the tasks of getting treatment.
It takes work on both their parts, but help is available. You can make a difference for someone who is suffering.