Tactics to Get Your Parent to See a Mental Health Professional

If you are the adult child of an aging parent, you already may have faced major struggles on getting your mother or father to go to medical appointments with a primary care physician. You may now be at a point in time at which you think your parent might benefit from an appointment with a mental health professional. 

Appreciating your experience in getting your mother or father to a primary care physician, you may have major qualms about what may lie in store in regard to an appointment with a mental health professional. Through this article, we provide you some tactics to consider using as a means of getting your parent to an appointment with a mental health professional. These tactics include:

  • Overcoming expected objections about a mental health appointment
  • Plan appropriate conversations with your parent about the mental health appointment
  • Enlist the assistance of others in your parent’s life
  • Take advantage of informational resources about mental health 
  • Importance of timely mental health intervention 

Overcome Expected Objections

Objections are apt to abound when you raise the subject of an appointment for your aging parent with a mental health professional. One of the tactics to utilize is employing ways to overcome some of the more commonplace objectives older individuals (indeed, individuals of all ages) are apt to have when it comes to the proposition of making an appointment with a mental health professional.

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“Shrinks are for crazy people”

The idea that mental health professionals exist to work with so-called crazy people is a type of objection that you very well may hear from your own mother or father. The idea that an appointment with a mental health professional is for “crazy people” stems from the long-enduring stigma attached to mental health conditions and even those who treat people with mental health issues.

The reality is over 20 million people in the United States seek assistance from mental health professionals every year. This likely includes people who are a part of the life of your own parent. (There may be a family member or friend of your parent who your mother or father respects who has obtained professional mental health assistance. You might make mention of that if you would not be violating a confidence in doing so.)

You can also make note of famous people who have voluntarily sought mental health assistance. These include individuals who your parent certainly will know and very well may even respect:

  • Betty Ford
  • Tipper Gore
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • Mike Wallace
  • Brooke Shields
  • Patty Duke Astin

“I don’t believe in that therapy mumbo-jumbo”

A contention by your parent that he or she doesn’t believe in therapy can actually mean many things. Trying to get your arms around what your parent really means when he or she makes a statement like this can be highly challenging.

The reality is that at least for now you don’t really need to try and diffuse the contention being made by a parent that therapy is worthless. Rather, you can focus only on the idea that you are suggesting that your parent attend an initial consultation to learn more about mental health support and assistance. 

“It’s a waste of time.”

A related contention that may be made by your parent is that an appointment with a mental health professional is a waste of time. You can counter this one fairly readily by explaining you really are only asking your parent to consider one appointment. The whole process of going to and from such an appointment, together with the appointment itself, is not likely to take more than a couple of hours. 

“It’s too expensive.”

Yet another reason why your parent may balk at a consultation with a mental health professional is that such a session is “too expensive.” The fact is that if your parent’s primary care physician makes a referral to a mental health professional, Medicare will cover most of the costs. If your parent has a Medicare supplement insurance policy, all of the costs of such an appointment will likely be paid through Medicare and the secondary insurance policy.

“They’ll put me away.”

This can be a complicated protest by an aging parent. The possibility might exist that your parent may need some sort of in-patient assistance. In the alternative, at a mental health evaluation, a determination might be made that your parent really should not live on his or her own any longer. For example, assisted living might be recommended. In the alternative, your parent might have dementia which has progressed to a point that residing in a memory care center might be recommended. 

Because of these possibilities – even if they are remote at this time – you do need to take care in how you respond to this type of protest or contention by your aging parent. You can focus on the fact that in-patient treatment (if recommended) is not a prison sentence. Assisted living is a change of location but your parent will be able to maintain a considerable level of independence. 

Plan Appropriate Conversations

When it comes to attempting to get your aging mother or father to an appointment with a mental health professional, consider planning a course of multiple conversations rather than a one-and-done discussion. In other words, plan an initial conversation with your mother or father during which you gently put forth the idea about an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

If your parent responds with heightened emotions – if your mother or father gets mad – move on to another topic and save a continuation of the conversation for another day. Even if your parent responds calmly, remember that old admonition that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your goal should not be to press your parent into agreement to see a mental health professional during an initial conversation.

There is one caveat to the idea of planning for a series of conversations over time about your mother or father seeing a mental health professional. There can be emergency situations in which your parent really needs to see a mental health professional immediately. In such a scenario, you cannot take a more expansive approach to the situation. Emergency situations call for different measures which can include getting your parent to a professional expeditiously. 

Returning back to a more typical situation in which there is not an emergency at hand, there are some pointers pertaining to conversing over time with your mother or father about an appointment with a mental health professional. Some of these have been touched on briefly already in this article. It is helpful to see them in a sort of checklist so that you can frame up your own mind as you prepare to discuss a mental health appointment for your parent:

  • Gentle and kind communication with no criticism
  • Gentle and kind communication with no accusations
  • Reminders that you love your parent
  • Reminders that you respect your parent
  • Be loving and supportive during and after conversations
  • Commitment to regular conversations
  • Set reasonable expectations about setting a mental health appointment for your parent

Enlist Assistance of Others

Keep in mind that you do not have to go it alone if your parent should schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. There likely are other people in your parent’s life that can assist you in making a case to your parent that an appointment with a mental health professional is a good decision at this time. These individuals might include a sibling or another family member.

Your parent may have trusted friends who he or she otherwise goes to for advice from time to time. It might be appropriate to bring that individual (or those individuals) into a broader discussion of what benefits might come from a mental health professional appointment. (A word of caution: don’t speak to a friend of your parent without his or her blessing to do so.)

If your parent participates in church, synagogue, or other type of religious or spiritual organization, a clergyperson might also be another individual that can provide a sounding board for your parent in regard to an appointment with a mental health professional. In addition, your parent’s primary care physician – which may have made a referral in the first instance – is another person who may be helpful in the process of encouraging your parent to attend at least an initial consultation with a mental health professional. 

Take Advantage of Informational Resources About Mental Health

A considerable amount of confusion can surround mental healthcare and mental health professionals. For this reason, as you discuss the prospect of your parent scheduling an appointment with a mental health professional, take advantage of authoritative and reputable information about this area of healthcare. 

Your parent’s primary care physician may be able to recommend or even provide some reliable informational resources about mental healthcare. Other sources of information about mental healthcare included NAMI or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. In addition, there are hospitals and medical centers like the Mayo Clinic or the Menninger Foundation that can provide trustworthy information about mental healthcare and mental health professionals. 

Timely Mental Health Intervention and Assistance

We have already discussed the need for emergency mental health assistance in some instances. The bulk of this article has had a focus on conversations over time to ease your parent into the idea of going to an appointment with a mental health professional. The conversations cannot go on for ever and must have a point of resolution. 

The World Health Organization or WHO sets for the importance of timely mental health intervention and professional assistance when an older individual is in need of this type of care:

Prompt recognition and treatment of mental, neurological and substance use disorders in older adults is essential. Both psychosocial interventions and medicines are recommended. Timely assistance includes:

  • Early diagnosis, in order to promote early and optimal management
  • Optimizing physical and mental health, functional ability and wellbeing
  • Identifying and treating accompanying physical illness
  • Detecting and managing challenging behavior
  • Providing information and long-term support to caregivers

By incorporating these tactics into the process of encouraging your older parent to seek an appointment with a mental health professional, you are more likely to have a positive result at the end of the day. You are more likely to get your parent to agree to an appointment with a mental health professional in a timely manner and with at least something of a more positive attitude.