How to Tell Someone They Have a Mental Illness Part 2/2

Continued from part one of How to Tell Someone They Have a Mental Illness.

Thirdly, I recommend printing out information about the disorder for the person. There are plenty of resources online that will tell you the basics about a disorder and if you have this information ready, the person with the illness doesn’t have to go searching for it. Books are another good option. But know the person with the mental illness may use this information in dribs and drabs as information overload is a real possibility and will help no one.

Fourthly, look up places and ways the person can get help. There’s no point in pointing out a problem if you can’t offer a solution. In this case the solution is help. The easiest place to get help is your family doctor so maybe you could make an appointment for the person. You family doctor can do an initial assessment and refer the person to the appropriate person (probably a psychiatrist) for a full evaluation.

Additionally, there are all sorts of mental health and addiction related resources available and they are listed by location here.

Telling Someone They Have a Mental Illness

Talking About Mental HealthA conversation where you tell someone you think they have a mental illness isn’t likely to go well. No matter how much prep work you do and how well you handle it, this is an incredibly hard conversation on which to be of either side.

Consider how many people you want in the conversation. More people might strengthen your argument, but might make the person with a mental illness feel ganged up on. If this is an emergent conversation because you fear the person may hurt themselves or someone else, more people might be better because treatment needs are more immediate. However, in most cases a one-on-one or maybe two-on-one conversation is probably best.

Things to keep in mind when having a conversation where you tell someone you think they have a mental illness:

  • Try to be calm and unemotional. The other person is going to experience enough emotions for both of you.
  • Make sure to tell the person that you care about them and still love them. One of the biggest fears of people with a mental illness is that people will stop loving them because of their illness. Make it clear this isn’t happening and they are not alone.
  • Tell the person that they are normal – not a freak – and they are just suffering from an illness
  • Try to understand that it can take time for this sort of thing to sink in. It might take the person a few days to think about what you have said before they decide treatment is right for them.
  • Know that if the person gets angry with you about this conversation it is their pain talking and it’s likely not about you at all. Try to stay detached enough not to react emotionally.
  • You might have to have this conversation, or one like it, more than once.
  • Don’t say these things

And try to plan for what to do if it all goes wrong. What will you do if the person refuses treatment? What will you do if there’s a screaming match? What will you do if the person storms out? What will you do if the person blames you for their problems?

Make sure you have your own support system. If it all does go wrong, who can you turn to for help? It’s not just hard being the person with the mental illness it can be really hard to be their loved one too. You deserve your own love and support in this situation.

Someone You Love is Mentally Ill – You’re Trying to Help

Overall, know that you’re trying to help the situation. Even if the situation seems dark, you are taking the first step in moving towards the light. No one gets better by denying the problem and people don’t generally get better without treatment. So while telling someone you think they have a mental illness may seem impossible, it’s one of the few things you can do to try and move forward and beyond the illness.

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  1. I’ve read these articles (1&2) and read all of the comments but i am still stuck. can anyone advise. After three years my partner is still visciously agressive towards me when he gets stressed. He still won’t accept he has a problem. still feels that his anger is normal, still thinks ‘it’s me’, and still refuses to see anyone. Now i’m the one on pills because i can’t stend being stouted at. Hellllp! what do i do now.i can leave because i’ve nowhere to go and if i did his children would get it. one has already left at age 15 but the other is too young. they are no my kids

    • Hi Jes,

      I’m sorry you’re in that situation. It sounds very difficult.

      If you’ve tried everything reasonable, as you said, and you fear for the child then there is only one step left – contact Children and Family Services. You have done the best you can with this situation but you _can’t_ rectify it yourself – you have tried everything. You need outside help and that is what they are there for.

      I’m sorry to be so blunt, but the way I see it, you don’t have another option.

      – Natasha Tracy

  2. The most important point is saying that the person is normal. I was telling my friend yesterday that I feel very bad after stopping my treatment, but won’t go back to it, because i want to feel normal

    • Hi Nicky44,

      You are absolutely right. People tell me they “feel like a freak” due to internalized stigma and that is _the_ biggest barrier to treatment. If people can be reminded we’re just like everyone else, if that can _believe_ that, then the outcome is often much better.

      – Natasha Tracy