How do I Persuade Someone to Get Treatment for Their Mental Illness or Substance Abuse?

This one of the most frequently asked questions I field as a Family Advocate.  How do I make my ill family member take medication?  How do I get my ill family member into detox and sober living?  From personal experience, I know that this question is asked in desperation.  I can remember seeing my own son lost in his head and he not even realizing anything was wrong.  Each day his condition would worsen.  Each day I lost him a bit more. Each day my own fear and anxiety increased.

My role as a Family Advocate is to listen with compassion, help caregivers explore their options, and create a workable plan.  What does that look like?  It is as varied as the people I serve.  The following is part of my personal journey:

My son graduated from high school and his mental health, which was showing some strain, deteriorated at a rapid pace.  He spent most of his waking hours in our garage mixing music from vinyl records.  He seldom communicated verbally other than a grunt here and there, and he would shuffle from the garage (detached) into our home excessively – sometimes just to look at his image in the mirror.  We had him see a psychiatrist who diagnosed him with schizophrenia and prescribed medication.  Our son would not take the medication, but he did consent to seeing a therapist.

For months on end, I was his only human contact during the day while our younger son was at school and my husband was at work.  I would sit in the same room with him watching TV just so he could have human contact.  Occasionally, I would ask him where he saw himself in a year, or in five years, and explain that if he didn’t at least try medication, nothing would get better for him.  At the 18 month marker, our son decided to try medication.  He was not happy with how the medications made him feel, and he would not take them consistently.  I am not certain how he managed, but he got employment and kept that employment for over a year.  I had very little control over my son’s decision to take medication.  He has since told me that his existence was so dark, his options were to die or to try something new.  His therapist was worth his weight in gold because he was there to catch him when he was at his lowest.

We cannot force medication or sobriety on anyone.  We are not in control.  What we can do is collect information and resources and have them ready for when our family member decides to reach out for help.  My best advice is self-care.  Take time for yourself away from the caregiver role.  Each family’s experience is unique.  That is why it is necessary to sit down and explore options with each caregiver that walks into my office or calls my extension.  Staying safe and healthy is important.


Written by: Ramona Winner