Ask a Social Worker: How Can I Convince Someone to Seek Mental Health Treatment?

Advice for family members on how to bring up mental health treatment with loved ones.

Ask a Social Worker is a monthly column featuring questions from the community and answers from members of NHF’s Social Work Working Group. If you have questions for our social workers, send them to askasocialworker@hemophilia.org.

Dear Kathaleen,

Do you have any advice for convincing someone to seek mental health care? I think my son is depressed.

I like that you’re being aware and wanting to guide your son toward help. This can be a sensitive topic for some people, and your approach and timing are important considerations.

Ask your son if he has time to talk with you. Setting the time and intention to talk can eliminate distractions; for example, you don’t want to talk between activities or be limited by time. Also, talk in a space that is safe and private. This is a vulnerable conversation, so it would be best to avoid public spaces or family gatherings. It’s also helpful to know the signs of anxiety and depression before these conversations to ensure the most impactful interaction with your loved one.

Bring compassion and empathy to the conversation. You noticed, you’re concerned and you want to offer support, so make sure to say so. Using “I” statements such as “I am worried about you” or “I want to check in on you” can open a conversation and potentially reduce defensiveness or a feeling of being attacked, which can happen depending on what your son’s experience has been with mental health support. Please be patient, and keep in mind that this conversation is about him and letting him know that he is loved, supported and seen. Ask questions like “How have you been feeling?” or “How do you feel about going to therapy?” It’s also good to normalize going to therapy. Mental health care is healthcare.

If at this point your son is interested in or open to finding a therapist, he might need support, so make sure to ask. Sometimes finding a therapist who is a good fit can be a daunting task (there are barriers such as insurance, location, scheduling, etc.), especially when someone is already feeling vulnerable. You can offer support such as providing a list of therapists or websites, or offering transportation.

If your son is not interested in finding a therapist after your conversation, remind him that you are there and that you love him. You can ask questions about why he may not be interested. Listen, validate and resist giving advice or trying to “fix” anything. Continue to check in on him. And make sure you also have support.

While my response is built around the framework of allowing for choice, there are times when mental health care may not be a choice. If at any point you become concerned about your son being at risk of harming himself or others, you should call 911 or seek emergency medical care for him immediately (regardless of his age or ability to make his own decisions).

Here are two national support helplines and websites: The first is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which you can reach by dialing 988. This is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The second is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline (800.662.4357), which is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for people and families facing mental health or substance use disorders. And as always, your local hemophilia treatment center social worker can be a resource.

—Kathaleen M. Schnur, LCSW

Schnur is a social worker at the Hemophilia Center of Western Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh and a member of the Social Work Working Group.

Source: National Hemophilia Foundation, HemAware, October 2022