In my previous article I talked about some reasons Asian Americans underuse mental health services. Most Asian Americans turn to their family for support in times of emotional difficulties instead of going to a mental health professional. How then can you get help for someone in your family if their difficulties are serious? Here are some suggestions:
1. Express Your Concerns
Find a time and place conducive to bringing up the subject. Understand that what you are about to share with this person may not be easy to accept and may even be shocking to them. Ask yourself this: would they respond better when alone or when in the company of their most trusted person, such as their favorite sibling?
Start by stating their strengths. Then describe some of the changes you have seen recently. Be clear about what you have been noticing about their behavior and moods. Then express how you feel. For example, you may say, “You know how I’ve always loved your sense of humor, but lately I haven’t seen you laugh as much. In fact, you seem withdrawn and don’t seem to be taking good care of yourself. I’m worried about you.”
2. Be Firm and Respectful
Many people would first respond by denying any problems. Your loved one may understate their troubles and assure you that they are fine. Be firm about your observations. You may have to bring up several instances of unexpected behavior from them (e.g., forgetting to feed the dog, missing work). Mention the activities they used to enjoy but no longer engage in. Talk to them in a calm and non-judgmental manner. Be prepared for disagreements. Remember, you are expressing your concern, not trying to win an argument. If the family member refuses to discuss the subject any further, respect their wishes for now. It does not always mean they are in denial; they may just need time to process what they have just heard.
3. Listen and Empathize
If and when your loved one is ready to talk about this, listen. You may see outbursts of anger, sadness, and fear. Understand that these are not directed at you, but are indications that this person is coming to terms with their difficulties. Empathize with them by saying, “This must be really hard for you” or, “I can see why you would feel this way.”
If you are at a loss for words, remember that it already helps a great deal just by being there, listening quietly, accepting your loved one’s vulnerability. In many Asian families where physical affection is rare, simply resting your palm on their hand or knee conveys volumes of love and understanding, especially if you are talking to an older person. If this is a child, younger sibling, or someone accustomed to physical touch, a long, heartfelt hug may be what they are longing for.
4. Give Facts
If you have done research on what your family member’s difficulties may indicate, now is the time to present the facts. Help remove the stigma around mental illness by stating that as many as 1 in 4 adults in this country struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lifetime. Talk about how many people have found relief from their symptoms by seeing a therapist or going to the doctor. Assure them that proper treatment can help them get on with their day-to-day lives, function like they used to, and enjoy the things they have always loved. Help them understand that getting help does not mean they are helpless.
5. Offer Your Best Support
Ask what they need from you. If they are still unsure of what their symptoms indicate, gather information with them, such as by doing an online search. Offer to accompany your loved one on their visits to the therapist or doctor. If they want to keep this from the rest of the family, honor their confidentiality. Give practical support where needed, such as taking over some chores or helping them run errands. Encourage them to keep their appointments with their therapist or doctor. If medications are prescribed, help them develop a system so they remember to take the medications.
These are just some of the ways you can help a family member get help when they are experiencing emotional or psychological difficulties. What happens if the person who has mental health issues is yourself? Should you share this with your family? If you decide to tell them, how best to do it? I will discuss this in my next article.