Mental illness comes in many forms — and it’s more common than you think. Around one in 25 American adults is living with one or more conditions that affect their quality of life, with up to half diagnosed with mental illness in their lifetime.
If someone in your family is living with a mental health condition, you probably know how difficult it can be to raise the subject of treatment. Many people get defensive because they’re in denial, while others may not understand how serious a mental health condition can be.
But with patience, focus and respect, you can help your loved one get the help they need for their symptoms. Read on to learn how to help someone who refuses treatment for their mental illness.
Why Is It Difficult to Accept the Need for Help?
It can be hard to accept help for a mental health condition. Not only are you fighting against the usual reluctance people can show to getting any kind of therapy, you’re also trying to overcome the stigma and sense of shame that still attach to people living with schizophrenia, depression or other conditions.
As difficult as it already is, the nature of mental health disorders makes seeking treatment even harder, since a person with a limited ability to perceive or manage their interactions with the world is more likely to deny that they have a problem that needs treatment.
A person with a mental health condition can also resist your efforts to help because of a misplaced sense of shame, embarrassment at their vulnerability or the idea that others will judge them or feel fear over a poorly understood issue.
A more rational resistance to getting mental health care involves the very real consequences some people experience from the positive decision to seek care. People with a recent history of mental health treatment may not, for example, own guns or apply for certain jobs, which heightens the stigma they already feel and the societal perception that something is “wrong” with people who need mental health support.
Common Barriers People Face in Seeking Mental Health Care
Even when the emotional and social barriers to seeking care have been overcome, many people with mental health problems still have a hard time getting the help they need.
Cost is one factor, especially since mental health services aren’t guaranteed to be part of every medical insurance plan. Another issue is the time off from work, time away from family and the difficulty some have with finding an appropriate level of care at a facility that will be able to help them.
Mental health disorders are also frequently misdiagnosed. Unless your loved one is consulting with a specialist, ideally someone with experience working with people who have their specific condition, many mental health conditions can be mistaken for other issues, and even for nutritional or vitamin deficiencies in some cases. This is certainly the case with the nearly 93% misdiagnosis rate for people seeking help for bipolar disorder.
It can take time to find the right therapist for a specific condition or for a person who’s resistant to therapy, which acts as a barrier to care and makes it harder to get your loved ones the help they need.
What Can You Do to Remove the Barriers to Seeking Help?
Maybe the most important thing you can do to help someone struggling with a mental health problem is care and make your concern felt. For many people, simply having a supportive presence in their lives is a critical first step to eventually seeking care.
As a close friend or family member, you’re also in a position to influence their decision-making, both with your words and with your actions. You might be the one person who can raise the issue of seeking help without being rebuffed, for example, or your presence could give them the courage they need to take their first steps into treatment.
Another thing you can do to lower the barriers to care is seek help yourself. A lot of the time, people who are reluctant to seek help can be nudged in the right direction by watching the positive change in a loved one who’s getting help for their own issues, such as codependency or addiction services.
A measure of therapy for yourself can also be helpful, since helping a person with a mental illness inevitably puts strain on you that could be alleviated with something like a casual weekly peer counseling session.
How to Help Someone Who Refuses Treatment
As difficult as it can be to raise the issue of mental health care, you may be the only lifeline your loved one has to help get the process started, and your intervention might be the turning point in their decision to seek help.
As a starting point, be aware that for some conditions, a mental health crisis can quickly flare up into an emergency. If you believe a person you care for is in danger of hurting themselves or another person, call 911 without delay. A false alarm is better than a failure to act in time.
Assuming your loved one is in a less urgent situation and is willing to listen to you, you’ll have to raise the subject in the way you think will work best. If your friend values directness and honesty, speak directly and tell the truth about what has you concerned.
If you’re unsure of their reaction, you can approach the subject more subtly or enlist other family members and friends to stage a mental health intervention. Sometimes being confronted in a loving and respectful way by the people they trust and care for gives someone the push they need to agree to treatment. Be prepared for a defensive reaction, and avoid making the person feel judged or looked down on, even if it’s unintentional.
Getting the Help You Need
If you’re in the difficult position of coping with a friend or family member’s mental health issue, you don’t have to tackle the problem by yourself. The empathetic professionals at Restore are here to help. Contact us today for a consultation and find out what you can do to get your loved one the care they need