Healthy Focus—September 2022

Stand By Me:

Guide to Helping a Loved One Struggling with Behavioral Health Challenges

“Behavioral health” refers to both psychiatric and substance abuse, and people with these health issues suffer from either or both. Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of those with a mental health disorder don’t seek help, typically because of the stigma associated with these issues. If you have a family member or friend who has a behavioral health disorder, you can play an important role by supporting and standing by them throughout their recovery.

Many of the signs of mental illness and substance abuse are the same. They include:

  • Avoiding people and normal activities
  • Changes in sleeping or eating habits
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Decreased energy
  • Inability to perform daily tasks
  • Loss of interest in grooming
  • Feeling helpless or numb or like nothing matters
  • Having unexplained aches and pains
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
  • Fighting with loved ones
  • Experiencing severe mood swings
  • Having persistent thoughts
  • Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
  • Thinking of harming themselves, or others

How to Support a Loved One with Behavioral Health Problems

If a friend or family member is showing signs of mental illness or addiction, you can offer support by:

  • Treating them with respect, compassion, and empathy
  • Reminding them that mental health and abuse problems can be treated
  • Expressing your concern and desire to get them help
  • Offering to help your loved one with everyday tasks
  • Including your loved one in your plans, even if they reject your invitations
  • Educating family members and friends so they understand the facts about mental health problems and do not discriminate
  • Finding out if the person is getting the care that he or she needs and wants—if not, connect him or her to help

Starting the Conversation

Talking to your loved one about behavioral health problems can be difficult. Here are some ways you can start the conversation so you can begin the process of helping them:

  • I’ve noticed that you are going through a difficult time. Would you allow me to help you get help?
  • I care about you and I am worried about you. Can we talk about what’s going on? If you aren’t comfortable talking with me, who would you rather talk to about it?
  • I’m concerned about your safety. Have you thought about harming yourself or others?

Getting Help

One of the most important ways you can help a loved one is by connecting them to professionals that can help with their treatment and recovery. Talk to your healthcare provider about resources that you can tap into to get your loved one the help they need. Call 911 if the situation is potentially life-threatening. 

You can also reach out using a toll-free, confidential hotline with trained resources available 24/7, 365 days a year to help with behavioral health issues:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress for you or your loved one. The 988 Lifeline 988 is now active across the US. This new, shorter phone number will make it easier for people to remember and access mental health crisis services.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (1-800-662-HELP) is a free referral service that can help you find the resources you need for recovery.

HCMC partners with Paris Behavioral Health | Integrative Health Centers (IHC) to provide psychotherapy, medication assessments and medication management services. For more information or to make an appointment, call 731-644-8441.

Talking to Your Kids about Drugs and Alcohol

Experts agree that early and often is the best way to talk to children about the dangers of substance abuse.

Instead of making drugs and alcohol a taboo topic, brought up only if your children have issues with them, speak to your kids from a young age about how to live a healthy lifestyle and how substance use can interfere with that, doctors and substance abuse experts recommend.

Healthy Conversations

While there’s no hard and fast age for first talking to kids about substance abuse, it’s best to start the dialogue before the likelihood of experimentation occurs, which is often in middle school. It’s helpful to frame the discussion of drugs and alcohol as part of a general conversation on healthy habits while their kids are in elementary school.

It’s important to talk to kids not about how scary drugs are, but about how one of the most exciting things about growing up is that their brain is developing into their early 20s, and what they can do to have a healthy brain. In that conversation, parents can talk about nutrition, reading, exercise, and also about how when people try to use substances, they can be particularly dangerous to the developing brain.

It’s important to focus on the use of substances as a physiological issue, about what they do to the brain and what the risks are, and why some people are more susceptible to them than others. The conversation should include any family history of drug and alcohol abuse, along with genetic predisposition to addiction problems.

Some kids have very open communication with their parents about this subject because of alcoholism and drug addiction in their family, and talking about it in comparison to other health conditions can help take the shame away from it.

In general, kids seem to understand and appreciate the scientific discussion of substances, and the risks involved, better than, “It’s bad, don’t do it”.

Be Realistic

Even though the goal of a substance abuse discussion usually is persuading kids not to use alcohol and drugs at all, experts say parents should be realistic: Despite your best efforts, there is still the possibility your child will try alcohol or drugs at a party or with friends.

If there is an open, ongoing dialogue, however, you’ll have a greater opportunity to talk to your child about taking safety precautions. For example, you can make sure your child understands not to drive or get in a car with someone who has been drinking or experimenting with a drug. This conversation should include assurances that your child’s safety is the most important thing, and that you won’t punish him or her for calling to get a ride or other help in an unsafe situation.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do…

Before having even an initial discussion with your child about drugs and alcohol, it may be helpful to evaluate your family’s own culture around these substances, since questions are likely to arise about parents’ personal habits.

When you talk about avoiding substances, kids might say, “But you drink wine every night.” Of course, as an adult, parents get to make their own decisions, especially because the brain is fully formed. But it can be a tough question to navigate.

Addressing that seeming hypocrisy is important if parents hope that kids will be at least somewhat transparent about their own use.

Experts say it’s developmentally normal for kids not to go to their parents first if they experiment with drugs or alcohol, but they will feel more comfortable going to parents if they are a receptive audience. A back-and-forth conversation is often better than a mandate.

Who’s Most at Risk?

As a parent, it can be helpful to understand how different kinds of brains are more susceptible to substance use.

High stimulation-seekers, socially anxious kids and those going through periods of transition like a divorce or a change of schools or housing, for example, might be more likely to turn to substances. In those situations, parents need to make a special effort to help kids find other activities that are stimulating or calming. Mindfulness and meditation can be good healthy coping devices in cases of trauma, stress and depression.

For more information on how talk to your children about drugs and alcohol, talk to your healthcare provider or click here.

HCMC partners with Paris Behavioral Health | Integrative Health Centers (IHC) to provide psychotherapy, medication assessments and medication management services. For more information or to make an appointment, call 731-644-8441.