What To Do When You Suspect a Loved One Is Mentally Ill

Walter Winchell, American newspaper columnist, once said, “A real friend is the one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” This truth is never more evident than in the case of mental illness. Unfortunately, mental illness can come between friends- especially when a response or action on the part of one friend angers the mentally ill friend. The mentally ill friend may feel betrayed. Merriam-Webster defines “betray” as:
“(1) to give information about (a person, group, country, etc.) to an enemy; (2) to hurt (someone who trusts you, such as a friend or relative) by not giving help or by doing something morally wrong; (3) to show (something, such as a feeling or desire) without wanting or trying to.” By getting help for your loved one, by definition, you are not betraying them. The individual may FEEL betrayed. You have acted out of care and concern-not betrayal. Mental health providers are not the enemy. While there are some providers that are not as effective as others, most providers want to help people. In the case of mentally ill loved ones, NOT doing anything is less helpful and more dangerous. Seeking help for a loved one may result in the termination of the relationship. For example, the mentally ill friend may say, “If you tell anyone that I am considering suicide, I will never speak to you again.” However, if your loved one successfully commits suicide, they will never speak to you again either. A precious life will be lost and you, along with others, will mourn the loss. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. However, a mentally ill person does not see it this way. For a suicidal mentally ill person, suicide is the only way to get relief. It is an act of desperation.
The most important time to act on a friend’s mental illness is when the friend is a danger to themselves or someone else. If you suspect a loved one is considering suicide or considering hurting someone else, call 911 or get them to the nearest emergency room. This will allow the person to be evaluated for mental illness and provide an opportunity for them to get the help that they need.
In the case of psychosis or mood disorders, the friend may not realize that they are in a bad place mentally. It is not uncommon for the person to be paranoid (someone is “out to get them”) or to be delusional. It is nearly impossible to reason with a psychotic person. People will bipolar disorder may not sleep for several days or may be unable to get out of bed. Again, it is important to get the person the help that they need by calling 911 or taking them to the nearest emergency room. Medications are required for these conditions to improve.
If you do choose to call 911, the effects of this call are difficult to watch. Your loved one may become combative. They may scream obscenities. I have had to enlist the help of 911 several times and, based on my experience, it never gets easier to witness. However, know that you are acting in the best interest of your friend. The most important thing is to keep them safe and keep them alive. Consider seeing a counselor yourself in order to process what has happened. The journey for the mentally ill is difficult, but there is help available.



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