Content note: Today’s post is primarily directed at people who make therapy referrals and recommend therapy as part of their job (social workers, doctors, ministers, rabbis, school counselors, etc). This post is specifically about something that goes wrong when people make therapy referrals for…
I feel like it’s important to also ask if a person would like a referral to therapy if you’re not sure if they would benefit. A lot of the time mentally ill people become really good at hiding our suffering, so you may not see it when we’re seeking other help. Asking is a way to let them know those resources are open to them, but making sure they don’t feel pushed into doing it.
For me, as an exec at my university LGBTQ+ group, a big part of what I do is talk with other students about how they are managing their lives, their identity navigation, being or coming out, and a whole host of things. We also have a super high rate of mental illness in our community. So almost any time one of these conversations is had, I make sure to tell them there are resources for them here, and that I will help them access those resources. Hell, I’ll even hold your hand and walk you over to the wellness centre to set up a psych appointment with you because I know how scary that can be.
Saying things like “you need help” or “you need to go to therapy” is unlikely to be how that person needs these things brought up.
Suggesting that they may benefit from more support than you can offer, though, and stressing that they deserve said support can be helpful both in directing them to resources and in validating their experiences.
I’d also remind folks that formal one-on-one therapy isn’t the only option available for people. Support groups, community-building groups, religious practices, etc. can all help peoples’ mental health. Being able to devote the time and resources to those things is often out of reach for many people, but affirming that prioritizing your mental well being is a valid decision to make and supporting them in doing that can be one way in which you can be of help.
That’s a really important point. If you are an organization that offers mental health resources, it is important to make sure that people who might need them know that they are available, and that they are welcome to use them. (People who need help very often feel unworthy of getting it.)
And in some settings, like an LGBTQ+ center, the fact that someone is there is reason enough to suspect that they might need help, particularly if they are actively distressed.
“You’re in an LGBTQ+ center, a lot of us have mental health needs, you should know about our resources and that you’re welcome to use them, and if you need help accessing them I’ll be happy to help you” is a message well worth sending.
You definitely don’t have to be sure to make suggestions. You just have to be doing it for an actual reason, and the reason has to be for the sake of the person you are making the suggestion to (rather than a script for asserting boundaries).