This is a very common issue and one where we can learn lots from physical fitness. Improving mental health and fitness is just like improving physical health and fitness. So when this question comes up, I always ask people: “If your family member was in very poor physical shape and you knew they had to start exercising or they risked serious health complications, how would you get them to start an exercise program and make changes throughout their life to support that?”
It’s not going to be easy. Nobody gets into great shape because they’re forced to do it. Personally, I started to get help for my mental health issues because I saw that they were interfering with my goals in life. I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. At that point, I still didn’t think any of my compulsions were weird or unusual–I had reasons for all of them–but I was aware I wasn’t able to do things I knew that I could do. And that’s likely a factor for many people that start on a physical fitness program. They see that they’re not able to run or walk or be active like they could in the past. Their participation in the life they want becomes diminished or challenging. That can spark a change, but it doesn’t always. Many people will run into challenges and say that’s who they are and those are things they can’t do and they leave it at that.
Something else that helped me was seeing other people taking care of their mental health. I had a friend who was open about how he had overcome mental health challenges and how he was maintaining recovery and improving his mental health. That was the first person I talked to about what I was going through. Just like with physical fitness, it helps if you’re around people who are also doing the difficult work of improving their mental health and fitness and making major life changes to support that. It can be very difficult to imagine what change looks like if you’re not close to people who are practicing change on a daily basis. So if you want to tell a family member get into better shape, consider how you would want to be told to get into better shape. Who would you take advice from on something like that? Would you take fitness advice from somebody that doesn’t exercise themselves? How would you like to hear somebody tell you that you need to get into better shape?