“Someone Else Can Help You Better Than I Can” (Compassionate Boundaries Part 8)

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   Nancy Virden (c)2013

I’ve heard and read that the key to knowing when to involve professional help is to compare previous to present daily functioning, to check the intensity of difficult emotions, and to observe the duration of negative changes.  Generally, if symptoms of depression last two weeks or more, professional help is the best idea.

It is best to seek help sooner than later. Why? Irrational thinking is dangerous, and mental disorders most certainly skew our perceptions.

Lilly meets you for lunch. You can tell she is not having her best day. As you talk together you learn she is struggling because of family issues. You express your sympathies and encouragement, and then you part ways.

A few hours later, she calls. “Can we talk?”

Puzzled, you agree.

“Truth is, I’m tired and don’t want to go to work in the morning.”

Here, you have options. Do you want to placate her and agree that life is tiring? Is your aim to control her emotions and keep her at a distance by remarking, “Just take it easy, you’ll be OK”?  Or do you want to effectively help?

Without judgment you ask,  “How are you managing at work these days? I know you are under a lot of stress.”

She responds by sighing, then admitting she has asked off work the last three days.

Clearly, her feelings are intense and affecting her life functions.  Most of us are not mental health specialists and not in a position to diagnose. We may however, suggest someone sees a psychiatrist. This boundary protects both the one we want to help, and us. 

Imagine walking into a small creek in search of a stone. That’s not too tough, and is probably fun. What if the water rises and you are charged with retrieving a certain kind of stone? Now there is a challenge.

Finally, what if fast flowing water encircles your neck and you must find a specific stone? How long before you recognize you are in too deep? 

Responding to the Lillys in our lives by trying to meet their every need, is dangerous. It is important to know it is right and best to remain a friend, and allow professionals to be the mental health caretakers. One simple statement can relieve both Lilly and you from stress and serious mistakes, “I’ll help you find the professional care you need.”

There is nothing wrong with admitting, “Someone else can help you better than I can.”


NOTE: I am not a trained or licensed mental health professional. I am not a doctor. I speak only from my experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

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