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by Abigail Van Buren

Don't Hesitate to Reach Out to Friend Who Needs Help

DEAR ABBY: The letter about depression and suicide prompts my own letter. Only one in five people who suffer from a mental illness seek help. As some of those with a history of mental illness stated in their letters, reaching out for help is often a task that seems insurmountable. And broaching the subject with a loved one can be difficult for many reasons. Fear of being told to "mind your own business" can be a big impediment to friends and families who would like to extend a helping hand.

However, if you are truly concerned about a friend or loved one, the most compassionate action is to express that concern.

How to intervene:

(1) Clearly outline for yourself the reasons you feel the person needs help. Make sure they are for the person's benefit -- and not for your own selfish reasons.

(2) Create a special time to express your desire to help your friend or loved one by saying you would like to set aside some time to talk about "something important" and asking, "When would be a good time?" Be sure it's in an emotionally safe environment where you won't be overheard or interrupted. Then communicate how important he or she is to you and the reasons you feel there could be a benefit from counseling. (DON'T say what your friend or loved one is doing is "wrong.")

(3) Be direct, honest and compassionate. Practice stating your reasons in a positive, non-blaming way.

Abby, let's make it commonplace to reach out to others and say, "How are things really going for you? I'm not just asking to make conversation ... I'd really like to know because I care about you." -- DR. KEVIN GROLD, DEL MAR, CALIF.

DEAR DR. GROLD: Your helpful letter illustrates the importance of forethought in trying to achieve ANY kind of intervention -- be it for alcohol, drugs, depression or other mental health problems. While the majority of people may be reluctant to attempt this, some will want to -- and your letter provides valuable tools for them.