How You to Help Loved Ones Struggling with Mental Health

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Tue, September 17 2013 at 6:26 PM, Updated: Tue, September 17 2013 at 7:32 PM

What do you do if someone you love is struggling, pulling away and isolating themselves? The answer isn't always easy, but there are ways you can help.

34-year-old Aaron Alexis, a Navy Reservist and a man whose own family reportedly described as troubled, potentially suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and mental health problems. He's the man police said shot and killed 12 people on Monday at a Washington D.C. Naval base.

"Individuals who are mentally troubled or in any way disenfranchised really don't have a sense other people care," said Dr. Eric Morrell, who is a forensic psychologist.

But in the days, even years leading up to the mass shooting, what if anything could have been a clue to those closest to Alexis that he was struggling?

"If they're having outbursts of anger [...] if they're isolating themselves, if they are hyper vigilant really wondering what's going on around them, kind of a paranoid take on that too," said Toni Vondra, a Social Worker at the Veterans Affairs office in White City.

If those signs were clear...what could loved ones do?

"Check in on them frequently and really just keep encouraging. I can't emphasize that enough," said Vondra.

What that means: staying positive and kind. Words of support can let them know that someone really does care.

"Encourage them to get professional help."

However, if they're not willing to get help, what to do becomes less clear.

"That's a really tough situation because then you kind of have to wait until [...] they're going to harm themselves or someone else, began Vondra.

"There's no easy answer."

Even so, Vondra said it's important to remember that it's the small simple things that really matter.

"That always makes a difference cause sometimes when people's symptoms are exacerbated they feel like nobody cares," said Vondra.

She said even something as simple as asking them how they're doing, or offering them a ride when they need one can make all the difference.

So the take-away point: human connection is what's important.

Show the people you love that you care and let them know you're there to help them in whatever way you can.

What do you think? Sound off on our Facebook page and on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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