Mental health and wellbeing: Knowing when to help a loved one
The fear of the unknown. It’s a phrase we’ve all used, but during today’s COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a term that has adopted real meaning as none of us can be sure what the future holds. We are living a true day-by-day existence, which runs counter to the human instinct to anticipate and plan.
That nagging fear of the unknown can take its toll on our mental health. People have become accustomed to this lurking unknown, but for some of our friends and family, when is too much simply too much? In honor of May as Mental health Awareness Month, Beacon Health Options wants to provide some guidelines as to when it’s time to suggest professional help for a loved one.
Ability to function
Perhaps the most important guideline to consider is an individual’s ability to function. For example, is the daily stress of COVID-19 interfering with relationships, physical health, parenting or work? What is the actual impact? If you’re noticing that COVID-19, or the pressure of life in general, is affecting your friend’s or family member’s ability to function, it may be time to encourage professional help. Below are some signs that your loved one may have reached that point.
Physical health symptoms
- Decreased appetite with significant weight loss
- Inability to fall asleep or to stay asleep, or awakening too early
- Feeling like sleeping all the time, despite potential consequences
- Increased use of drugs or alcohol
- Increase in risk-taking behaviors, including gambling and sex
- Feeling unable to work, parent or keep a home
- Feeling unable to focus or get anything done
- Feeling agitated or restless
- Feeling unable to handle stress with normal coping strategies
- Having a sense of inappropriate guilt and unworthiness
- Feeling very angry and engaging in violent fantasies
- Experiencing panic attacks
- Taking no enjoyment in activities that are normally enjoyed
- Thoughts of suicide. Always take these thoughts or statements seriously. Call the National Prevention Suicide Line (800.272.8255) or 911 if someone is expressing thoughts to harm themselves or others.
What you can do
In addition to suggesting that it may be time for your loved one to seek professional help, there are ways you can support a friend or family member who is struggling. For example, offer childcare if it is needed, taking the necessary COVID-19 precautions during these times, so that a friend can do what they need to do, such as attend a telehealth therapy appointment. Offer to make and deliver a meal or to pick up groceries or to go for a walk that includes social distancing guidelines.
Perhaps most important is to call and check in daily while distress continues. Ask the person questions about how they’re feeling and don’t be afraid to be direct. You want to be sure you know how they’re truly feeling. You can also connect your loved one with a virtual support network; for instance, a depression support group or a grief support group.
Ironically, tough times such as the COVID-19 pandemic, offer the opportunity for us to grow as individuals and to become even closer with our loved ones. If you are witnessing someone having a tough time, trust your instincts and take action if you notice signs that suggest professional help is an important next step.