Encouraging a loved one to seek help

It can be a particularly difficult experience when a loved one is dealing with mental health issues or addiction, especially if they don't believe they need or want help.

October 30, 2023

With mental health issues continually on the rise, it’s likely we all know and care about someone who is struggling with addiction. It’s not uncommon to feel helpless, and at a loss about how we can help. For those that can not yet see how their behaviour is impacting themselves and their loved ones, some form of intervention may be helpful. But, knowing how to approach this difficult conversation is often the biggest hurdle. Not shaming or blaming those who are struggling is paramount, but there are subtle ways we can use language when offering help to a loved one, to ensure we sound supportive, rather than accusatory.

A casual approach to intervening in a loved one’s mental health might see us ask the person in addiction if they might listen to their concern about what’s going on and offer some support to get them treatment. In its more traditional sense, an intervention will be a structured process that involves a handful of loved ones (3-4 closest friends or family members) coming together to support the person to go into treatment.

The important thing to know is that an intervention of any kind needs to be carefully planned. You can start by bringing the family system together first, without the person in addiction present, to get clear about what they are able to do and what they are not able to do. Having this conversation with a professional therapist who can guide the process is important because for family members, helplessly watching a loved one struggle can be traumatic in itself.

When the family is clear about the expectations of the intervention, your therapist might ask you to write a short letter to the person about your experience of their addiction. This might only be a paragraph, so as not to overwhelm and emotionally unload on your loved one. It’s important to have a clear plan in place before the intervention about what will happen if the person agrees to get some help. We’ve all seen the movies where the intervention is a big success, a bag is packed and they head straight off to rehab, but in reality, there’s a little more planning involved.

As a friend or family member, you can speak with treatment centres such as South Pacific Private to gather preliminary information for your loved one but cannot organise admission on behalf of them. Treatment at facilities such as South Pacific Private are entirely voluntary, so clients must be willing to call, undertake an assessment and admit for treatment on their own accord.

Having said that, as a loved one, we can take away some of the leg work before intervening, by speaking with the intake team to gather general information about what to expect out of the program, the assessment process and how soon an admission might be possible.

Remember, intervening does not necessarily mean you’ll get the outcome you hope for. Try to get comfortable with this concept before anything else. The purpose of intervening in a loved one’s addiction is about providing an opportunity for them to know that they are valued, and in spite of their (perhaps unpalatable) behaviour they are loved and you want them to get well.

Some tips

  • Avoid laying blame and don’t lose your temper
  • Avoid ‘you’ statements or accusatory language e.g. ‘You didn’t come home again last night, you’re always ruining everything’
  • Instead, use ‘I’ statements e.g. ‘When I noticed that you didn’t come last night, I felt fear and worry that you weren’t safe’
  • Come from the approach that you are asking the person to get help because you care from for them and are concerned for them
  • Avoid listing historical grievances and stay calm
  • Don’t go into it hoping for a fix all.

Be prepared that despite your efforts, your loved one may still say no

Here are some things you can do to help them and yourself:

  • Work with a therapist who specialises in addiction to help you set some personal boundaries with your loved one. An example of a boundary might be, ‘if you continue to drink, I will no longer make excuses to your boss about why you aren’t at work again’ or ‘if you continue to gamble, I will no longer be able to provide you with financial support.’ Boundaries aren’t designed to wall people out, they are designed to keep you safe, so you can act within your own values and morals. They can also ensure that you don’t enable your loved one to stay in their disease.
  • Whilst it can be terribly worrying if your loved one won’t accept help, trying to control the outcome can put a wedge between you, so when rock bottom comes, they may not come to you for help. For loved ones it can help to look at things from another angle; I didn’t cause it. I can’t control it. I can’t cure it. If your loved one refuses help, you can say to them, ‘I love you and I am terrified. But, when you are ready, I will be here.’
  • Finding your own support can open the window to a world of people who are going through similar experiences. Find a support group for loved ones of people in addiction such as AL-ANON or NAR-ANON or link in with your local health district to see what services are available in your area.
  • It’s not uncommon for us to become consumed with worry about our loved ones mental health and wellbeing. If the worry has become unmanageable in your life, consider seeking inpatient treatment for yourself to help you navigate this period. Addiction is a family disease, so by understanding our own coping mechanisms, behaviours and beliefs, we can begin to model healthier ways of living and communicating to those in our lives who are struggling too.

Remember, people don’t choose addiction. It is a disease that doesn’t discriminate and can impact people from all walks of life. It is a family illness that impacts us all; and it’s not uncommon to find that intergenerationally there will be addiction in the family.

If you or a loved one is struggling, give our intake team a call on 1800 063 332. This is a dedicated group of caring professionals who will listen to what’s going on for you and your loved one and help you with the next steps. If you’re not quite ready to make the call, you or your loved one can also take a free, online self-assessment here.

Online Self Assessments

Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.

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