I’m going to be talking to you about how to express if indeed you should express to someone else that you think they’ve got a problem with their mental health. When I say ‘if indeed you should’ there are some things that we don’t flag up with other people and there are some things that we don’t raise the issue with them. For example, even if you are clinically qualified to do so you don’t tell your friend that you think that they’re autistic. We don’t go there, that’s something that somebody needs to find out as a result of deciding to go on a journey themselves. This is not your place to just kind of randomly throw into the conversation even if you think it’s for their benefit.
Here’s the very first thing that is super important before we even consider sitting down with someone and having a bit of a chat with them. Firstly, has something changed? I don’t mean do we know something in their life has changed. I mean in terms of these new behaviours, reactions and emotions that they’re displaying; these things that are troubling us about this person – is it different to how they used to be before?
If it’s not, then actually we might not have a problem they might just be a bit quirky and a bit odd because those people do exist. If you notice that the person you’re concerned about has changed that there has been a notable change in how they are thinking, how they are behaving or how they are feeling then we’ve got grounds to proceed.
If it’s not those things maybe they’re not the one with the problem maybe it’s you, you know, maybe it’s your thinking that has changed about them but not necessarily them that’s changed and sometimes that happens in life. Sometimes we have a relationship with someone and the stuff that never used to bother us about them suddenly starts really annoying us and then it suddenly seems like they’re annoying us on purpose but they’re not they’ve always been that way but your tolerance levels have changed so if it’s that we don’t need to talk to them about it we need to work on our own problems, with our own tolerance levels and decide whether or not we still want this person in our life that’s a different thing but when the change has happened in the other person and it is having a significant impact on how they are thinking, behaving or feeling then we need to start thinking about sitting down with them, having a conversation and saying ‘I think there might be a problem here’ and having a look at it together.
From establishing that ‘yes, something has changed’ only then can we start thinking about how do we actually approach this interaction with them and have this further conversation with them. My first suggestion is that no matter whether this is an employee or a family member you start by keeping notes. You’re going to have to start keeping some evidence because if this is a relative that you’re concerned about and you maybe are going to end up being the person who accompanies them to the doctors at some stage and so to be able to have some history around when this has started and what’s been happening, what sorts of incidents you’ve noticed is going to serve you really well.
You need to be keeping records of what’s going on with this person that you care about so that in an attempt to get them the right treatment you’ve got as much information as possible. One of the things that are really difficult with mental illness is describing your symptoms because you only see life from your own perspective and particularly when people get frightened about their mental health they’ll really downplay what their symptoms are or brush things off to one side or if they’re suffering from something up that higher end of the mental illness spectrum they might actually forget stuff that they’ve ever done.
Where possible I would suggest using the softening phrases when approaching another person: ‘I feel like that’s not the way you used to behave,’ ‘I feel like it’s not okay to treat people like that’ or ‘I feel like you’re not looking after yourself very well at the moment. In using such phrases, it’s like you’re taking responsibility for what you’re seeing and experiencing and not just being blaming and putting it all on them. I feel softening frame can work really well and generally just think about your language and the softening frames that you might be using.
The other thing that is really useful to do which the police do all the time where they interview a suspect. The police tell the suspect that the questioning is just to rule you out from our enquiries so that phrasing around this is to rule out anything else is something that I have learned to use a lot both with my mom and with the clients that I see where I suspect that the mental health issue or illness that they are experiencing is beyond the realms of my reach and I want them to get treatment but it’s not going to be with me.
One of the frames that you can use here is to say I’d recommend going to the doctor just to rule out anything else and then I’ll often suggest something quite low level that’s not particularly terrifying or treatable but would also help to put the like to kind of get them into the system and to get whoever it is that they end up engaging with exploring other things. For example, if you have someone with anxiety then you could recommend that they go to see their GP just to rule out. If someone has a long-term sleep problem then you could say to them, you know, it’s probably worth talking it through with your GP or a counsellor just to rule out the fact that there’s something else playing on your mind, that’s interfering with your sleep patterns. If someone is showing some signs of some more mental health illnesses it’s worth going to your doctor to get a urine check because sometimes with certain urine infections it can cause your brain to start tripping out and working in a different way.
I can suggest for you as the carer, as the employer or as the facilitator of getting the ball rolling on having this issue explored, for whoever it is in your life, that currently has a problem is that you are really brave about it because it can be a thankless task to undertake. It can also be incredibly stressful because you might see what is best for them but they may not see it for themselves. It might feel as if you’re kind of like going at it alone in some ways but when you do get them on the right track when they do get access to the help or the treatment that they need then you can give yourself a pat on the back and know that you did the best that you could.
Don’t underestimate the impact that things like stress, anxiety and depression can have on a person. Some things that might seem to be much more severe mental health issues actually just boil down to either stress, anxiety or depression or a combination of the three of them in some way and these can really change a person’s personality and they are recoverable so where you can support people in accessing the treatment that they need getting on the right path so that they can begin to live a healthier, happier life going forward with your assistance there by their side.
I hope that this was a useful and interesting one I know it’s the stuff that might not be relevant to you at this exact moment in your life but trust me if you ever interact with another human being at some point in the new or distant future you’re going to need this stuff because of everybody has a mental health issue at some point in their life and with the ageing population that we have, we’ve got more and more people that are going to be prone to mental illnesses and neurological issues later on in life so we need to know how to have these conversations knowing that they probably won’t be comfortable but facing up to them anyway.
By Gemma Bailey