How to get help for someone who has a mental illness

Many people have received first aid training and know what to do in the event of drowning, choking, bleeding, or broken bone. On the other hand, few people know what to do for one who thinks his food is being poisoned or that aliens are moving inside his body or that the television is reading his mind and broadcasting it to the world.

by Marion Bono
by Marion Bono

Here are a few tips to get help for someone who has a mental illness:

1. Begin taking notes on what is going on. When did this start? What has happened? What are your concerns?

2. Express your concerns to your loved one. Express ideas such as, “You have been sleeping more than normal, not coming out of your room, not eating.” Or, “You have been agitated, critical, argumentative, anxious. This is not like you.”  They might be open to the idea of going to their primary care physician to see if anything physical is going on. A physical check up with the family doctor is less threatening than going to a psychiatric hospital. The doctor might then make a referral to a psychiatrist or other mental health professional. This type of voluntary cooperation is ideal.

3. It is a different story when the person is psychotic (out of touch with reality), expresses bizarre thinking, sees things that are not there, thinks he is a famous person, thinks God is speaking directly to him. This person needs help quickly. Most of these symptoms do not improve on their own. In fact, they may get worse over time and cause significant problems. It is important to get a diagnosis and treatment immediately so the brain can begin to recover.

A person in this psychotic state may refuse help and say things like, “I am not crazy. You are the one who needs help.” In this case, the family must intervene, and often must pursue involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital.

4. The criteria for admission to a psychiatric hospital are as follows: threatened to hurt himself or others; or gravely disabled. If any of these threatening, violent, or disabling conditions exist, the family member must do the following:

1. If there is time, go to the Coroner’s office, 707 B Prien Lake Road and fill out an Order of Protective Custody. Use the information from the notes you have been taking. The form to fill out is simple, quick. Take this paper work to the Sheriff’s office or the police station where plans will be made to take your family member into protective custody.

2. If there is no time, call 911, tell them you are dealing with a person who has a mental condition, and ask them to call for help – preferably from law enforcement officers who have received special training in dealing with mental illness. They are called “CIT officers.”

Usually they will secure the situation while a family member goes to the Coroner’s office to initiate the paperwork for involuntary commitment.  Your family member will be in good hands with these law enforcement officers.

Pursuing involuntary commitment of your loved one is difficult, particularly the first time. The family needs to know it is a loving thing to do because it insures the safety of the individual as well as others. If no action is taken while your family member continues to decompensate, it is like letting a person bleed to the point of death, making no attempt to stop the bleeding.

For more information on how to get help for yourself or your loved one, call the local NAMI office, 337-433-0219

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Marion Bono, a member of NAMISWLA, facilitates a support group and teaches the Family-to-Family course, from which these articles are taken.
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