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Helping a Family Member Get Help

Once armed with the knowledge of the particular disorder, it’s time to take action. If the family member isn’t already seeking treatment for their concern, you should help them with finding appropriate care. In America, this often starts with checking your insurance benefits and seeing how you’re covered for mental health care. Most primary care physicians or family doctors can do an initial, if cursory, diagnosis of many common mental disorders (such as depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, etc.). However, this should only be the first step of treatment. You should obtain a referral to a mental health care specialist for further evaluation and a definitive diagnosis (preferably from a psychologist, experience clinical social worker or the like – someone armed with years worth of differential diagnostic experience).

That mental health specialist will schedule a one to one and a half hour appointment with the family member. This intake interview consists of obtaining a lot of background information, family history, and history of the current problem in order to make an accurate diagnosis for a mental disorder. If the symptoms or lifestyle of the family member warrants it, the clinician will also schedule or refer you to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation. From there on out, a treatment plan will be formulated and the family member is well on a path to recovery.

Privacy and Helping When Help isn’t Wanted

Of course, once you help your family member navigate the healthcare maze of treatment providers, insurance coverage, and diagnostic evaluations, you should step out of the picture of their care. Respect your family member’s privacy. Most family members, unless they are under-age children, can take care of themselves. Maybe they just needed that little nudge to get help, or the unconditional support and acceptance you offered them. It might surprise you, but for many people, a little kindness and support is all that’s necessary.

What if the family member doesn’t want to get help? All you can do is share with them the information you gathered on the condition you believe is afflicting them, and gently offer them support and a kind word of encouragement. Once. Just once. The biggest mistake family members make is to give others their unsolicited advice every time they see the person about what they think is wrong with the person, and that they need to get help. That’s not support, that’s nagging. And nobody likes to be nagged.

You cannot make anybody else do anything they don’t want to do. You may think you can, by punishment, anger, withdrawal of love or attention, etc. But all you will have done is gained newfound resentment from the family member and a renewed determination to undermine their own treatment. This is not a healthy way to approach treatment of any kind and should be avoided at all costs.

With this advice, your family member should be thankful of your support, encouragement, and guidance in a time when they are likely a little afraid and don’t know where or who to turn to. Sometimes all a person needs is a little guidance and support to find direction and hope. Because of your unique relationship with your family member, you are in an ideal position to offer this. Good luck.

Helping a Family Member Get Help

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Helping a Family Member Get Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.