Expert Advice

I Think My Loved One Should Be On Medication For Anxiety. How Do I Help?

A neuropsychologist shares signs to look for and how to approach the convo (if and when it’s appropriate).

A woman comforts a friend.
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Seeing a loved one suffer from anxiety can be heartbreaking. No one likes to see someone they care about endure pain, especially if there might be a solution to help mitigate it. If your loved one is having anxiety issues, you might think medication can help them feel better — and some definitely can. But how do you get them to talk to a healthcare professional about which medications may help? And how do you, as their loved one, encourage them to take their medication without adding undue stress or pressure? Mental health can be a tough line to navigate; you don't want to cross any boundaries, but you also don't want to sit idly by and witness your favorite person struggle with life.

In some cases, according to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist, there are instances when it's appropriate to step in and help someone get the medication they need for their anxiety.

"For example, if someone is experiencing panic attacks or suicidal thoughts, intervening to ensure they receive prompt medical attention, which may include medication, is crucial for their safety," she tells Scary Mommy. "Additionally, if you notice that a loved one's anxiety is significantly impacting their ability to function in daily life and they are unable to advocate for themselves, stepping in to help them access appropriate treatment is important."

In other cases, you might not have the right to interfere. However, by understanding why medication can help alleviate anxiety and which signs of anxiety could benefit from medical treatment, you can at least share information with your loved one so that they may make the best decision for themselves.

What are some signs your loved one is experiencing anxiety?

If you're wondering whether your loved one is experiencing anxiety, Hafeez suggests looking for these signs:

  • Irritability: Being easily agitated, snapping at others, or having a short temper.
  • Physical symptoms: Experiencing muscle tension, headaches, fatigue, trembling, sweating, or gastrointestinal issues like nausea or diarrhea.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding certain situations or places that may trigger anxiety, leading to social withdrawal.
  • Sleep disturbances: Struggling with insomnia, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, or experiencing frequent nightmares.
  • Changes in appetite: Either losing appetite or overeating as a coping mechanism.
  • A constant need for reassurance: Seeking reassurance from others excessively or constantly seeking validation for their thoughts and feelings.
  • Perfectionism: Setting unrealistic standards for themselves and becoming overly critical of mistakes.
  • Panic attacks: Suffering sudden episodes of intense fear or discomfort accompanied by physical symptoms like rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, sweating, and dizziness.

When does someone need to be on medication for their anxiety?

"Medication for anxiety is typically considered when the symptoms significantly interfere with a person's daily functioning and quality of life, and other forms of treatment, such as therapy or lifestyle changes, have not provided sufficient relief," Hafeez says.

Below are some scenarios and reasons when medication may be necessary.

Co-occurring Conditions

"When anxiety occurs alongside other mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), medication may be prescribed to address both conditions simultaneously, as certain medications can have a dual effect on mood and anxiety," Hafeez shares.

Chronic Anxiety

"For individuals with chronic or persistent anxiety that does not improve with therapy alone, medication may be necessary to provide relief and improve overall functioning," Hafeez explains.

Physical Symptoms

If significant physical symptoms accompany anxiety, Hafeez says a doctor may prescribe medication to alleviate these symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Unsuccessful Treatments

If someone has already tried various non-medication interventions such as therapy, lifestyle changes, or relaxation techniques without significant improvement in symptoms, then "medication may be considered as the next step in treatment."

What are the best ways to approach your loved ones about their anxiety and medication?

Talking to your loved one about anxiety and medication can be tricky. Where do you even start?

First, says Hafeez, it's imperative to begin from a place of concern and empathy. "Start the conversation by expressing your care and concern for their well-being," she recommends. "Use empathetic language to convey that you've noticed they've been struggling and that you're there to support them."

For example, you might say something like, "I've noticed that you've been feeling really anxious lately, and I'm concerned about how it's affecting you. I want you to know that I'm here for you, and I want to help in any way I can."

Second, before discussing medication, Hafeez advises educating yourself about anxiety disorders, treatment options, and the potential benefits and risks of medication. "This will help you provide accurate information and address any concerns your loved one may have," she says.

Then, she recommends encouraging professional evaluation. "Suggest that your loved one speak with a mental health professional. Offer to help them find resources or accompany them to appointments if needed."

Lastly, Hafeez says it's important to respect their autonomy. "Ultimately, the decision to pursue medication for anxiety should be made by your loved one in collaboration with their healthcare provider. Respect their autonomy and support whatever decision they feel is best for their well-being."

If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.