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Most of us know that nobody is perfect and no relationship is perfect either. Whether it be a marriage, siblings, or the parent/child relationship, we are all aware that there will be challenges and even some arguments along the way. This is normal, and people tend to accept this and expect it. For the most part, people do a pretty good job coping with the ups and downs of relationships, and work through the difficult times.
Sometimes, though, the difficult times aren’t just the regular run-of-the-mill issues like bickering or having different opinions. Unfortunately, some people end up facing more serious issues, such as mental illness and/or substance abuse, and nobody is really well prepared to deal with them. Nobody ever imagines that they will be in this position, so it is very hard to know what to do and how to get through it. The truth is, it can be quite complicated.
Nobody ever plans to have a mental illness or a substance abuse problem. But the reality is that roughly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. In 2009, 23.5 million persons aged 12 or older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem. Among the adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, over 50% had a co-occurring mental illness. Given all of these numbers, there is a fairly good chance that at some point in your life, someone you love might face one of these obstacles.
What do you do when you think someone you love has a mental illness or a substance abuse problem? This is a complicated question, and the answer is that it is tricky and must be handled delicately. People are often slow to recognize or acknowledge that there is a real problem, which is actually understandable. Nobody wants something to be wrong with them, and it is especially difficult to be objective about oneself. Many still hold stigmas around mental health issues and addiction, which only further complicates matters. Furthermore, denial and rationalizations abound. Most people think they can or ought to be able to handle things on their own, which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here are some helpful tips to remember when someone you love needs help.
- Your first priority must always be to keep yourself and others safe. If that ever means calling 911 or leaving, then you must do so. Sometimes, this is what it takes to facilitate and begin the process of someone getting the help they need.
- It will take time for them to accept that there is a problem and that they need help. Keep this in mind and have realistic expectations. You will likely bring up the issues many times before they agree to get help.
- Accusing and attacking them for the issues, as difficult as they may be, only puts them on the defensive. It is counterproductive.
- A problem is serious when it is present and causing problems in multiple areas of one’s life, such as home and work.
- People don’t typically acknowledge the severity of the problems until they have experienced negative consequences as a result of them. While it can be very painful to allow that to happen, natural consequences can be very effective in getting someone to seek help. Whether it’s a DUI, followed my mandatory treatment, or having a manic episode and ending up in a hospital, consequences can catapult one to get help.
- Bring up the issues kindly, gently, and with compassion. Be supportive and approach it as a problem you’d like to help solve. Do it frequently. Keep talking about it.
- Never nag or say things like, “Are you finally going to help for that?”. Rather, make suggestions like, “I wonder if someone could help you with that.”
- Hopefully, they will eventually come around and be willing to try getting help. In the meantime, it can really take a toll on relationships.
- Consider trying couples counseling or family therapy to help get through this difficult time. Sometimes, one will agree to this since it doesn’t involve them admitting they have the problem. It can be an effective entry into treatment.
- Ultimately, the decision to seek treatment is up to each person. You cannot force someone to get the help you think they need. Unfortunately, sometimes it comes down to an ultimatum, where they must choose getting help or losing you. Only you can decide when you’ve have enough.
Dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse is never easy. Find the support you need through family and friends. Consider reaching out and connecting with Al-Anon or National Institute of Mental Health. Both are great resources offering support and advice when dealing with difficult issues affecting you and your family.