In the mental health community, we often find ourselves wringing our hands when our loved ones fall victim to a flawed system. Too often, I hear of stories from family members who do everything right and have everything turn out all wrong.

They take their loved one to the emergency room in a psychiatric crisis, and three hours later, the patient calms down and is released with no follow-up care in place. They contact their Community Mental Health Center only to be told that they need to contact an attorney, instead. They call around to psychiatric facilities and find out that no beds are available.

They call 911, and the police show up, arrest their loved one and file criminal charges.

Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the system works, but the best approach, I think, is to assume that it won’t and then be pleasantly surprised when it does. In most cases, if you want the right outcome — to have your loved one receive effective medical treatment — you need to work for it, to advocate.

Being an advocate means knowing what’s in your loved one’s best interest and then tenaciously pursuing it. It often means overcoming obstacles. The Treatment Advocacy Center has an excellent, succinct (2-page) collection of tips for “getting action from a slow-moving or unresponsive bureaucracy” called “Eliminating Barriers.” I encourage you to check it out.

Emergency room sign photo available from Shutterstock.