You Need Help!

How do people let their friends know they need help in a way that inspires them?

The following was originally posted to Shrink Rap.

Sometimes in my real life it becomes obvious that a friend or acquaintance is having a problem. Either they are wearing obvious signs of mental illness or they just show signs of being 'stuck' in life or, worse, of moving backwards. Often they don't see it. I suppose there is the outsider's vantage point of making a judgment that may reflect my own value system and not their reality: to me, I may see someone who has family and job and connections who sees leaving those things as a healthy escape and their withdrawal as a good kind of comfort with keeping their own company. Usually these aren't my close friends, but what do you do when you notice that someone in your life is changing and might possibly benefit from help?

In general, I've found that "You need help" is not helpful. People hear this as an insult, not as a kind suggestion from a concerned friend. And from a psychiatrist friend it may be worse and easier to blow off---shrinks think everyone's crazy, they push drugs, they think everyone needs therapy, they see the world in a skewed way (at least this is how the commercial runs).

So I wondered: how do people let their friends know they need help in a way that inspires them to get it in the absence of a crisis? If you're in treatment because someone else suggested it, what enabled you to hear the suggestion without being wounded or insulted?