David and I recently wrote about people with mental health issues who don’t act “normally.” This, related, post is about getting help for mental health issues. Because mental health issues are not as well understood as more observable physical maladies, there is often a reluctance for people who suffer from mental health problems to obtain treatment, including psychological counseling, neurological intervention, psychiatric treatment (such as medication), etc. In addition, because people with mental health issues, regardless of the exact nature of these issues, rarely see for themselves that something is wrong with their cognitive abilities, obtaining help for these issues usually requires intervention by family or friends. Sadly, family and friends are often hesitant to “get involved” to the extent required to get help for the person suffering from a mental health crisis because they are unsure of what to do. In addition, because there persists, even well into the 21st century, considerable misinformation about mental illness, as well as an overall absence of accurate information, many otherwise well meaning people do nothing to help, instead saying things such as, “Everybody feels sad sometimes; Johnny will get over this phase”; or “Aunt Wilma didn’t recognize me when I saw her today; I guess she’s got ‘old timers’ disease”; or “Ralph frightens me when he throws things at me; he never used to act this way and I’m beginning to dislike him.” None of these statements is helpful in finding out the source of the problem, not to mention obtaining treatment for it. Instead, after observing a pattern of unusual behavior, the concerned family member or friend should, and must, do something to help the person who has lost the ability to help himself/herself. Sometimes, when it is impossible to convince the person he/she has a cognitive impairment that requires immediate treatment, the concerned family member or friend will have to take control of the situation and take his/her loved one to a mental health facility; a memory care center; a detox/rehabilitation facility; a neurologist, psychologist, or psychiatrist; or an emergency room. If the person who is experiencing psychological problems is having a crisis, meaning he/she is a danger to himself/herself or others, calling 9-1-1, a suicide hotline, or having the person involuntarily committed to a treatment facility (via the “Baker Act”) may be the only recourse to save the person from harm. As a psychologist, I have participated in many interventions and crises among my family members and friends and, in addition, I have provided advice to countless people who wanted, but did not know how, to help someone who needed help. If in doubt, err on the side of providing too much, instead of too little, help to someone you believe is demonstrating signs of dementia, depression, substance abuse, or other mental health problems. You just might save someone’s life.
It is too late to “do something” after the harm is done. Red flags are called that for a reason – they are the signs that something isn’t right and that the person is likely to “go off the deep end” and hurt himself or herself, or worse, others. There are too many tragic examples of this which we all see, hear, or read about on a too frequent basis when harm has been done to a large number of others. More commonly, these red flags are shown by individuals who are harming themselves on an individual basis, rather than on a mass or sensational news worthy basis. Knowing what to do is a huge obstacle for most. Melissa’s expertise, even though she is not a clinical psychologist, gives her much more knowledge of the options and resources upon which to draw than most of the rest of us. There are community resources are good places to start and include United Way, accessible often by dialing 2-1-1, religious charities (Catholic Charities) and suicide hotlines – nationally 800-273-8255. There are police related resources, and there are church based programs with ministers, as well as local psychologists involved, sometimes on a reduced fee or voluntary basis. Other options include Legal Aid and Lawyer Referral programs. Admittedly, none of these are perfect, as we have too often seen, but they are there as starting points. The old yellow pages slogan, “let your fingers do the walking” can lead you to the appropriate resources and help determine tactics. There was once a group of mental facilities called Charter Hospitals. Long since gone, this group ran ads that ended with “If you don’t get help at Charter, get help somewhere.” Despite the fact that this slogan is directed at the needy person, who is unlikely, as Melissa points out, to initiate help on his/her own, the point was find help when needed, somewhere! Once resources are identified, the next action steps present themselves. Getting a family member or friend to the place of accepting, then getting help, can be very challenging. It may cause hard feelings; friendships can be lost. But these negatives must be weighed when considering the harm which could be caused by not doing so. It should be motivating to not want to have the regret of having something bad happen when one could have tried to help; better safe than sorry.