How To Talk To A Parent About A Mental Health Issue You Think They’re Ignoring
Despite the fact that roughly 450 million people, worldwide, have a mental illness, according to the World Health Organization, the stigma surrounding mental health issues remains. Try as we might to tear down that stigma, it can feel like for every step forward we make, something throws a wrench in the process and we end up taking two steps back. It's because of this stigma that sometimes people who have a mental health issue refuse to acknowledge it. And when it's a loved one, a parent especially, it's something we have to confront.
"[You need to] remember that personal growth, being able to see oneself is a personal journey," relationship expert Dr. Carolina Castaños, founder of MovingOn, tells Bustle. "It's something that each one of us has to do on our own, at our own time, and when we are ready. This is one of those things you cannot do for your loved one and you cannot force them to… it has to be wanted by them. If you are too direct, you will hit their defenses and they will push back."
It's important to proceed cautiously, carefully, and with an open mind and heart when you talk to a parent about a health issue you think they're not dealing with. Here are seven tips for how to do so, according to experts.
1. Come Up With A Plan
As much as you might be frustrated and even worried for your parent, you can't just jump right in to talking to them about their mental health issues. You don't want them to feel attacked in any way. When people are backed into corners they either lash out or run for the hills.
"Imagine how you feel when someone gives you advice or feedback that you did not seek," Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, psychotherapist and author of Smart Relationships: How Successful Women Can Find True Love, tells Bustle. "Most of us feel any or all of the following: a sinking feeling, anger, and defensiveness. The words 'thank you' rarely come to mind. So, now, imagine how your love one might respond if you sit down for a heart-to-heart and say things that include any or all of the following: 'It's for your own good.' 'You know I love you and would never hurt you.' 'I'm worried about your behavior.' "
Instead of talking to your parent without a plan, it's wise to come prepared about what you want to get across and how you'll do it.
2. Keep A Diary Of Their Behavior
When you have proof of incidents, with dates and times, your parent is going to have a hard time arguing with you. Proof that's been marked down and kept holds a lot more water than randomly listing events off the top of your head.
"Include any incidents that might have tripped off [their] reaction," says Dr. Wish. "Make a note about how long the reaction lasted. Rate on a scale of one to 10, with 10 high, the intensity of the reaction. Give details about the reaction, such as: slammed the door and walked out for half an hour; or cried; or threw a glass vase at the wall; threatened me; yelled at the children; etc."
3. Sit Down With A Professional
"Schedule an appointment for only you with a licensed mental health professional who specializes in your parent's disorder such as depression, anger, substance abuse, mood swings," says Dr. Wish. "Your goal is to learn about [their] disorder. Bring your diary. Ask for advice about how to handle it. Ask your primary care physician for a referral or search the American Psychological Association or National Association of Social Workers. Call them and ask for assistance in finding a therapist in your area."
Even if you think you know, for a fact, what type of mental health issue your parent has, take time to talk to a professional. Yes, the Internet can open our eyes and uncover lots of truths, but a mental health professional, like a diary, holds more water than saying, "Well, Mom, according to the Internet..."
4. Do Your Research
"Search locally for organizations that deal with your parent's issues such as alcoholism, suicide, depression, or substance abuse," says Dr. Wish.
That way, when your parent is ready, you don't have to fumble to find resources; you'll have them on hand to give to your parent when they ask.
5. Consider Talking To Your Other Parent
"After you learn as much as possible about what might be your parent's issues and how to deal with it, think about whether you can confide in your [other] parent," says Dr. Wish. "Sometimes, [they] can be in denial or feel too disloyal to 'rock the family boat' by upsetting [their] spouse/partner."
Since Dr. Wish stresses that addressing mental health issues in the family is something you shouldn't tackle alone, ask your other parent to get involved. Ideally, they'll want to help where they can, as opposed to turn a blind eye. However realize, going into it, that the blind eye approach is a real possibility.
6. Enlist Another Adult Family Member If You Have To
If your other parent doesn't want to get involved or you don't have a relationship with them, then you may want to consider reaching out to other family members or close friends of the family. Even if your other parent is on board, you still might want a little more back-up.
"Consider which adults in your family, such as your aunts or uncles you could bring into your confidence," says Dr. Wish. "Consider people whom your parent or parents trust the most. Or, perhaps your parent has a very close friend whom he or she confides. And are there any mental health professionals or physicians in the family whom you trust and respect?"
7. Create A Team
"The goal is to create a team of trusted and respected adults in the family, or among closest friends, who would be willing to talk to your parent — or be part of an intervention," says Dr. Wish.
Although on paper, this can seem like you're all ganging up, there is strength in numbers. If your parent can see just how many people are concerned and willing to fight for them, it's bound to be even more effective.
Talking about mental health is never easy. And this is most certainly the case when you have to talk about to someone who is struggling with a mental health issue they aren't dealing with. But as Dr. Wish suggests, if you have a plan and a support system in place, you're more likely to have a success discussion than if you just wing it.