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Q: How can I help a family member struggling with their mental health?

When somebody you care about is dealing with mental illness, it can be hard to know what to do. But friends and family can make a big difference in helping someone get help and recover from mental challenges. In honor of National Suicide Prevention Month this month, we encourage you to educate yourself on what you can do to help a friend or family member.

If you are noticing signs of a mental health problem in your family member, or if they’re reaching out to you for help, start by expressing your concern and support.

If you’re having trouble starting the conversation about their mental health, try asking gentle, open-ended questions about how they are doing and what they think might help. Then stop talking and actively listen to their response. If the person seems confused or upset, slow down, and consider trying again later.

When you’re talking with your family member, it can help to remind them that mental health problems can be treated. Find out if your loved one is already getting any care or professional help. If they’re not, offer to find out more information for them or connect them with resources or treatment.

You can also offer support by asking questions and being responsive when your family member talks about their mental health concerns. Listen to their ideas about what might help, and reassure them that you care. If they are struggling with everyday tasks, offer to help.

People with mental illness can feel isolated, so sometimes, you can make a difference just by continuing to include them in your plans. Keep reaching out and inviting them to things, even if they don’t always accept.

Finally, if your family member is in crisis or if they are having suicidal thoughts, it’s time to get immediate help. Call the Hawaii Crisis Hotline at (800) 753-6879, or text 741741 to talk to a trained mental health responder 24/7. And if you think they are in immediate danger, call 911.

It can be hard to see a family member struggling, but mental illness is treatable. By reaching out with compassion and empathy, you may be able to support them in getting the help they need.

Fatima M. Imara, MD

Psychiatry, Behavioral Health

Maui Memorial Medical Center
221 Mahalani St
Wailuku, HI 96793