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Mental Health Interventions: How To Help Someone With a Mental Health Problem

Written by Jonathan Strum

& Medically Reviewed by Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Medically Reviewed

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This article was reviewed by a medical professional to guarantee the delivery of accurate and up-to- date information. View our research policy.

Last Updated - 08/16/22

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Mental health interventions can encourage those with mental disorders to seek treatment. Effective treatment can help a person heal and begin a healthier, happier life.

A mental health disorder, or mental illness, is any condition that causes mental, emotional or behavioral difficulties. There are various types of mental health disorders; some may be mild, while others can be more severe. Regardless of the severity of a mental disorder, there is treatment available to help people recover. In some cases, a mental health intervention may be necessary to motivate a person to seek treatment.

What Are Mental Disorders?

The term “mental disorder” can be used to describe multiple conditions. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, common mental disorders include:

Mental health disorders vary in their signs, but they all have symptoms that affect how people think, feel and behave. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder has persistent worry that interferes with daily life. Someone who has bipolar disorder swings between an elevated mood called mania and a lower mood called depression. Someone with borderline personality disorder has difficulty managing emotions and tends to have unstable relationships.

Despite their differences, what all these mental disorders have in common is that they can disrupt daily life. A person with a mental health condition may be significantly distressed, have difficulty functioning at work or school and find it challenging to maintain healthy relationships with others. Some people with mental health disorders may engage in self-harming behaviors like cutting, and some may even have thoughts of suicide. Eating disorders can also cause harm if a person restricts food and maintains a dangerously low body weight.

A mental health intervention is necessary when a person with a mental health disorder is unable to function well in daily life or risks harming themselves through self-injuring or suicidal behaviors. If a person is unable to consistently attend work, care for themselves or engage in typical activities like socializing with others or practicing hobbies, it may be time to intervene. It may also be helpful to intervene early — before a person reaches the point of self-harm and dysfunction in daily life. When someone has a mental health disorder, they are sometimes hesitant to seek professional help. Staging an intervention can be one way to help a person who is resisting treatment.

Mental Health Intervention Strategies

There is more than one way to conduct an intervention, but having the help of a professional can improve the chances of success. A mental health interventionist is trained in recognizing the signs of mental health disorders and communicating in an empathetic and understanding way with someone who has a mental disorder. A professional can also train loved ones on how to most effectively communicate with and support a person with a mental health disorder.

A professional mental health interventionist may use one of the following common strategies when intervening with your loved one:

  • Johnson model: According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the Johnson model involves caregivers confronting the person with their concerns. With this type of intervention, you determine who from your loved one’s social circle will be willing to be part of the intervention. Your group convenes for two planning meetings to develop goals and problem-solving strategies for the intervention and learn how to best support the loved one. With the help of a therapist, your group then carries out the intervention and approaches the person about mental health concerns.
  • ARISE: The ARISE intervention method is called an “invitational intervention.” Repeated family meetings gradually become more intense to encourage your loved one to get treatment. The person with the mental health condition is invited to meetings from the very beginning, so there are no surprises. Rather than using a confrontational approach, ARISE utilizes gentle methods to help you approach your loved one with your concerns.
  • CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training): The CRAFT intervention model teaches families how to effectively communicate their concerns. Loved ones also learn to practice self-care and use positive reinforcement to motivate appropriate behaviors from the person with a mental illness. The model can also teach you how to get your loved one to accept help for a mental health disorder.
  • Family systemic model: The family systemic intervention model accepts that a mental illness affects not only individuals with addictions but also the people closest to them. The model leads the entire family to seek counseling and develop healthy communication patterns. The family systemic model does not use any surprise meetings, as the person living with a mental health disorder attends each intervention meeting. The model usually involves more than one meeting, but the intervention ultimately concludes with everyone in the family accepting treatment to help them cope with the effects of a mental health disorder.
  • Motivational interviewing: An interventionist may use the motivational interviewing technique to help people overcome their hesitation to seek treatment. This technique acknowledges that it is normal for people to have some resistance toward making changes.  An interventionist using this technique remains empathetic and non-confrontational while looking for opportunities to discuss how your loved one’s mental health disorder may be getting in the way of life goals.

How To Set up an Intervention for Mental Health

The first step in setting up a mental health intervention is to contact a professional. This person can listen to your family’s story and determine the best method for intervening with your loved one.

Once you determine a mental health intervention strategy, you can decide who should participate in the process. Close family members, such as parents, siblings or grandparents, often participate. If they are old enough, children may also participate. Support people, such as close friends, colleagues or members from the person’s church or other organizations, may also be part of the intervention.

When completing an intervention, it is important to remain focused on the topic of concern: your desire for your loved one to be healthy and get the treatment necessary for a fulfilling life. You should avoid shaming your loved one or placing blame on them.

Mental Health Interventions for Teens

Mental health interventions with teens may involve some of the same strategies used with adults, such as a CRAFT intervention or a family systemic intervention. Since teens often live at home under the care of their parents, a mental health intervention for teens may be more forcible. For instance, research shows that many states — including Florida — only require parental consent for a minor to enter inpatient mental health treatment.

See More: Seven Common Co-occurring Disorders in Teens

School-Based Interventions for Mental Health

In some cases, school-based interventions may be available to teens. When trained mental health professionals implement these interventions according to the protocol, they can be effective. A school-based professional, such as a school counselor or social worker, may intervene when they become aware that a student is displaying symptoms of a mental health disorder.

According to research, school-based interventions can be useful for treating conditions like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among youth. If teens receive interventions at school, this may reduce the need for interventions facilitated by family members.

See More: Take a Mental Health Quiz

Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Health

Intervening early in the course of a loved one’s mental health issue may also be effective. Experts have explained that if mental conditions are left untreated, they can create more severe disruption in a person’s life. This means that intervening as soon as you notice symptoms may be the most effective way to help your loved one.

Research supports the approach of early intervention in mental health. In fact, studies have shown that interventions for bipolar disorder are more effective when they are implemented early. A person may also be more receptive to treatment if it is provided before a mental disorder becomes severe.

Mental Health vs. Addiction Interventions

When people think of an intervention, they may imagine addiction-related interventions that are typically portrayed in the media. While mental health and addiction interventions may involve similar strategies or techniques, they are not the same.

For instance, when people confront a loved one about seeking addiction treatment, they often have an inpatient facility lined up where the loved one can detox from drugs and begin the journey toward sobriety.

Mental health interventions, especially if performed early in the course of an illness, may not require a person to seek inpatient treatment. Family members may simply express concern for their loved one’s mental well-being and encourage them to seek outpatient counseling or support.

Co-Occurring Disorders

It is also important to consider that some people may have co-occurring disorders. This means they meet the diagnostic criteria for both a mental disorder and a substance use disorder. In this case, the intervention should address both conditions. Before conducting an intervention for co-occurring disorders, it is essential to find a treatment location where your loved one can receive services for both conditions. In Florida, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health is prepared to provide treatment for both addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Mental Health, Substance Abuse & the Impact from COVID-19

The mental health impact of COVID-19 may increase the need for mental health interventions. Experts have found that large-scale disasters tend to increase rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders, and similar increases are expected with COVID-19. The physical-distancing requirements of the pandemic can also lead some people to feel lonely and anxious.

If your loved one has seemed especially anxious or distressed in the wake of the pandemic, be ready to offer support and listen to their concerns. Scheduling regular phone calls may make them feel more connected and less distressed. You can also encourage your loved one to take advantage of opportunities to connect virtually with others.

If you notice that a loved one is having difficulty functioning due to distress from COVID-19, it may be time to intervene and recommend mental health treatment. There are virtual options, such as teletherapy programs, available to assist those who cannot go to a physical office for treatment.

Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

As COVID-19 increases the need for mental health services, it is critical to begin breaking some of the stigma surrounding mental health. Some people may believe that mental disorders are not legitimate concerns, but it is important to remember that mental health disorders are real medical conditions that can and do improve with treatment.

Mental Health Disorders Fact vs. Fiction

Dispelling the common myths about mental disorders can break some of the stigma associated with mental health. Common myths include:

  • Mental health disorders aren’t common: While this may be a common belief, the reality is that it is far from true. Mental health statistics show that about one-fifth of adults experience a mental disorder within a given year.
  • Mental health disorders do not need treatment: Some people may view mental illness as being a “weakness.” People who believe this myth may think that those with mental disorders don’t need treatment and should just “get over it.” These beliefs are not true. The reality is that mental disorders can be the result of genetics, biological factors or a history of trauma or abuse. Treatment can help people to heal.
  • People with mental health disorders are violent, crazy or dangerous: This is another misconception that people hold about mental health disorders, and it is far from the truth. Data show that people with a mental health disorder are responsible for only about 3% to 5% of violent acts that occur. In most cases, a person with a mental disorder is no more prone to violence than the average person.

Mental health disorders don’t affect children: This is also untrue, as statistics show that half of mental health disorders show symptoms before a person reaches the age of 14.

Finding Help for Mental Disorders and Addiction

If you or a loved one is living with a mental disorder and a co-occurring addiction, The Recovery Village at Baptist Health is here to help. We offer a range of treatment options, including detox, inpatient services and outpatient care. Our professional medical teams are qualified to treat both mental disorders and addictions simultaneously, allowing clients to heal within all parts of their lives. Contact us today to discuss which of our programs may be the best choice for your situation.

View Sources

National Institute of Mental Health. “Mental Illness.” February 2019. Accessed October 9, 2020.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Mental Health Conditions.” 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020.

American Psychological Association. “Johnson Intervention.” 2011. Accessed October 11, 2020.

ARISE Network. “An Overview Of ARISE® Comprehensive Care With Intervention.” 2020. Accessed October 11,  2020.

Center for Motivation and Change. “What is CRAFT.” 2014. Accessed October 11,  2020.

Association of Intervention Specialists. “What is the Family Systemic Model?” May 2, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2020.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment.” 1999. Accessed October 11, 2020.

Kerwein, MaryLouise; et al. “What Can Parents Do? A Review of State Laws Regarding Decision Making for Adolescent Drug Abuse and Mental Health Treatment.” Journal of Child and Adolescent Substance Abuse, 2015. Accessed October 11, 2020.

Fazel, Mina; et al. “Mental health interventions in schools.” Lancet Psychiatry, June 23, 2015. Accessed October 11, 2020.

Vieta, Eduard; et al. “Early intervention in bipolar disorder.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, January 24, 2018. Accessed October 11, 2020.

Galea, Sandro; et al. “The Mental Health Consequences of COVID-19 and Physical Distancing. The Need for Prevention and Early Intervention.” JAMA Internal Medicine, April 10, 2020. Accessed October 11, 2020. “Mental health myths and facts.” August 29, 2017. Accessed October 11, 2020.