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Posted: Jun 21, 2017 19:55

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Stepping in to Get
a Loved One Professional Help

by Russell Hyken
[This article was originally published by US News & World Report, June 19, 2017, and is published here as a reprint with permission from the author.]

Mental health issues can be disruptive not only for the person affected but the whole family. Sometimes it's necessary for loved ones to intervene. This is appropriate when a family member experiences any type of mental health crisis, not just addiction issues.

When a loved one is having emotional struggles, family and close friends will do anything they can to help.

In many instances, a caring conversation is all one needs to put things in perspective. In other cases, a person may need professional help, such as undergoing counseling or seeing a psychiatrist.

Determining the intensity of one's distress is the first step to deciding the appropriate level of assistance. It's normal to feel intense depression after a difficult break-up or experience debilitating grief after a loved one has passed. Sometimes, life gets disrupted, one temporarily reacts in an emotional manner and empathetic support is all that is needed.

Others may have on-going mental health concerns, such as depression or anxiety. These types of mood issues are created by a chemical imbalance in the brain that is further influenced by one's personality traits. With therapy and medication as well as understanding family members, many are able to productively manage their day-to-day affairs.

There is, however, a small group with severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or drug addiction, whose struggles disrupt not only their own life but also the lives of those around them. These individuals are in acute distress and often rationalize, deny and make excuses for their bad behavior. Many are unwilling to seek help, and an intervention is needed.

It is a truly caring person who understands when circumstances are out of control. Often times both the troubled individual and a supportive family member have visited multiple doctors and seen a variety of therapists. Nothing seems to be help. Unfortunately, in these situations, it may be time to consider an in-patient mental health facility.

Accepting that a loved one is in major distress and requires residential treatment will create a great deal of anxiety for most family members. Some may feel like they are a bad spouse or a bad parent. In reality, there are many situational and biological factors that contribute to a person's downward spiral into severe mental illness.

It's also normal to question if something as drastic as an intervention is the best way to move forward. Family members who are in persistent distress and lie or hide their illness may not accept help in a traditional manner. If one is constantly making excuses for the behaviors of a sick family member, desires to leave a spouse because of their emotional outbursts or wants to kick a son or daughter out of the house because of their substance use, it's time to intervene.

Engaging in an intervention would sadden any concerned person. Even when one understands that providing a residential treatment option is the best course of action, the guilt can be overwhelming. This emotion may stem from a sense of powerlessness, self-doubt that an intervention is necessary or internalized blame that you are the cause of the problem.

Interventions are, however, a loving, supportive process that can motivate one to accept assistance. When the meeting occurs, it's common for the person in crisis to deny there is a problem or promise to change because they're unable to fully grasp their situation. Stay the course. On some level, the suffering individual knows he or she is in a bad place.

Reach out to a knowledgeable professional to assist with the emotional roller coaster a mentally ill family member can create. To avoid pitfalls that often occur during the intervention process, most mental health experts recommend engaging a professional interventionist, a mental health expert who is experienced with taking ill people to treatment centers. Check with your local National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse or National Alliance on Mental Illness office to find a specialist.

Interventions are appropriate for any individual who is experiencing a mental health crisis, not just those who have addiction issues. Bringing family and friends together to help a person create change is a powerful motivator to get healthy.

Don't wait for someone to hit bottom before intervening. Debilitating mental health issues and drug or alcohol addiction can result in a person hurting themselves or others. Psychological and medical issues are, in many ways, the same. The earlier a problem is identified and treated, the better chance one has to successfully recover.

About the Author: Dr. Russell Hyken offers therapy and school placement assistance to families whose children struggle with learning difficulties and mental health issues, such as ADHD, anxiety, depression and autism. He also specializes in educational evaluations, assisting people of all ages to think and learn more efficiently. His nationwide practice has offices in St. Louis and Park City, Utah. For more information, contact Dr. Hyken at or visit his website at

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