How Can I Help Someone Get Treatment for Anxiety?

Communicating your concern.

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Helping someone to seek treatment for anxiety can be challenging. Your efforts may complicated by the nature of your relationship with the person, and by their particular symptoms. People with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), for example, may feel that their worrying is justified. They may feel hopeless – that no one will really be able to help them see or do things differently. They may feel ashamed about how they feel, or about the prospect of being labeled with a diagnosis or “sick enough” to need treatment.

If the worry is felt to be justified, try to sidestep any argument about the rationality or irrationality of their thinking (as this is likely to be experienced as dismissive or insensitive). Instead, focus on the impact that the worry is having in their life. Inquire, for example, if the worry is keeping them up at night, making it difficult to relax, or causing problems at work, school, or in relationships. Empathize with these far-reaching effects of anxiety and, when you bring up the possibility of getting into treatment, emphasize that it could help with this.

For those who feel that nothing exists that could help them feel better, have compassion that the process might not be “a quick fix,” but remind them that there are treatments that work and that the options are improving all the time. If you have any sense of the type of help to which the person might be most agreeable – for some this might be a general, supportive talk therapy, a structured psychotherapy like CBT, or a medication to help with symptoms – this can be your starting point.

Therapy can take place individually or in a group setting. Psychotherapy sessions may be longer and occur more frequently than medication management appointments. Come to the conversation prepared with a little bit of information about the kinds of help available, or with contact information for clinicians or programs in their area that might be worth contacting simply to learn more.

If finances are a known issue for this person, look into low-cost options including university- or hospital-affiliated training clinics, sliding scale therapists who adjust fees based on what you can afford, and community agencies.

Shame and embarrassment are, unfortunately, hallmark barriers for seeking treatment for a mental health problem. Approach the topic gently. Remind them that no one asks or is to blame for a mental disorder, that these are equal-opportunity problems. If you know of relevant examples that might help the person feel less alone, share them. For example, "I have a friend who was going through some similar problems, and I know that he found talking to a therapist to be really useful." And if it’s the prospect of being given a diagnosis or told that treatment is recommended that is holding the person back from getting an evaluation, they may feel relieved by reminders that people with low-grade symptoms also seek and benefit from treatment.

If you are concerned about someone with whom you are not especially close, consider expressing what you’ve noted that has you worried.

Look for nonverbal cues; if the person is not comfortable with you bringing up the issue, recommend that they continue the dialogue with a trusted loved one or close friend. Conversely, if you are the close contact on whom this person repeatedly relies upon for support, listen carefully for problems that are requiring more help than you can reasonably offer. Talk openly about the limits to the support you can give, highlighting that there are people (i.e., clinicians) who are readily equipped with potentially helpful strategies of which you might simply not be aware. Talk to a professional yourself if you need more support about how to proceed.

To find a qualified clinician, check out referral resources including Psychology TodayThe Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or The Anxiety and Depression Association. Your primary care physician may be helpful in providing referrals for a psychiatric evaluation as well as local resources for low-fee treatment. For additional resources on mental health, see the Healthy Minds blog, the online resource of the American Psychiatric Association, and the website of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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