How to Find Help When the Person You Love Has Mental Illness

Strategies to navigate the monstrosity that is our broken mental health system.

Posted Sep 28, 2017

Volkan Olmez/Unsplash
Source: Volkan Olmez/Unsplash

Mental illness, particularly severe forms, bring with it devastating symptoms. But individuals and their families are also faced with the monstrosity that is the mental health system.

No one told my mom or dad how to most effectively find the appropriate psychiatrist or psychologist for me. Heck, no one even told them the difference between the two.

There wasn't (and sadly still isn't) a hotline to help navigate and leverage our broken mental health system. So what happens? People resort to reinventing the wheel. This, all the while they are emotionally drained, physically exhausted and psychologically depleted.

The mental health system is not going to be mended anytime soon. But here are, what I hope, are five suggestions to make the maddeningly convoluted path of finding help a little easier. Please check my post previous post "Where to Turn When Mental Illness Enters Your Life" for a list of most helpful resources and organizations.

1. Power in numbers: Support groups (either in person or online) can provide extremely valuable information and encouragement. They’ve been indispensable to me over the years. Groups can be for people with mental health conditions, or for families, friends, parents and even co-workers or employers of someone with a mental illness.

At any given meeting, you'll find people who have tackled similar problems that you’re dealing with. People may direct you to other helpful resources you may not know about. For example, at support groups I would ask people for recommendations of good psychiatrists and clinics.

Try more than one meeting before deciding a support group is not for you.

2. Look beyond the disorder: Although some resources, like Bipolar Caregivers, are for caregivers of someone who has bipolar disorder, the information can apply equally to a person supporting a loved with any mental condition. Take time to check them out.

3. Questions and the phone are your friends: Don’t forget the power of simply picking up the phone, calling one or two of these organization to talk with someone and asking for help to find the right resource or group.

Powerful questions elicit powerful solutions. For example: call your local mental health organization to find out what support group would be the best fit for you or your loved one. You might find out there are other ones that aren’t listed on their website or in a different location that’s closer to you.

4. Health Providers may not talk, but you can share. Lloyd Sederer, Ph.D., chief medical officer of the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), the nation's largest state mental health system, recommends knowing how to bend the rules of the mental health system. When you call a health professional to ask about your loved one, often they’ll say “I can’t share that information”. But you can ask them to listen. Tell them what’s been happening with your family member or friend; explain why you’re worried. They aren’t breaking confidentiality by listening. Watch his TEDx talk "When Mental Illness enters the family" for more details. Bending the rules segment comes at 10 minutes 42 seconds.

5. Please remember if you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis your first step is to call 911, visit your nearest emergency department or contact your local crisis centre. You can find a list of numbers here.

If you discover you’re unable to find the resources you need, please don't hesitate to reach out to me again ( and I’ll see if there's something else I can suggest. 

Take care on the journey. Don't go it alone. Reach out. Get Help. Have Hope.

© Victoria Maxwell