By Wesley Gallagher
Having a loved one who struggles with mental illness is difficult, especially if they don’t believe they have a problem. It’s hard to watch someone exhibit signs of mental illness who does nothing about it. But the reality is that most people have to decide for themselves to get help.
As a concerned friend or family member, you’re left in a tough spot. You want to help, but you can’t force your loved one to do anything. And until they realize they have a problem, they won’t seek the help they need. It may leave you asking, Can you help someone with mental illness if they aren’t aware of it or don’t want help?
Why Doesn’t My Loved One Want Help?
It can be confusing to see your loved one struggling with mental health issues and refuse to get help. So for starters, let’s try to understand why they might not want help.
Here are a few reasons your family member or friend might not think they need help for mental illness:
Stigma surrounding mental health and addiction has improved greatly over the last few years, but many people still have negative preconceptions about mental illness. Whether they don’t believe it’s worth treating, or don’t want to be looked down upon by others, stigma can be a major roadblock.
Another reason your loved one might not think they need help is because of misinformation or misconceptions about mental illness. They may think mental illness to be similar to what they see on TV, where sufferers become violent or can’t hold down a job. Or they could see it as a character flaw that they just need to fix on their own.
Stigma and misinformation can both factor into denial. They could also have a condition called anosognosia, which, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), is a medical disorder that makes someone unaware of their mental illness. This is common in certain illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which can damage your frontal lobe. When the frontal lobe is damaged, a person may lose their ability to update their self-image as their disease progresses, leading them to lack awareness of their illness.
As you figure out how to help a friend or loved one struggling with mental health, knowing why they might not want it will help you to approach them in a loving, supportive manner.
How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Who Doesn’t Want Help
Here are some tips on how to help someone with mental health issues who doesn’t want help.
- Have a Conversation
Working with them, rather than telling them what to do, can go a long way.
Start by having an honest conversation with them. Mental Health America (MHA) recommends that you begin the conversation by asking how they are doing and listening to them. You can then respectfully bring up your concerns and ask them how they feel about what you’ve said. Working with them, rather than telling them what to do, can go a long way. Resist the urge to give advice until they ask for it, and support them in what they do feel comfortable doing.
- Let Them Know You Are There for Them
The most important thing you can do for your loved one is to show them unconditional love, whether they are seeking treatment or not. Let them know that you love them no matter what.
- Encourage a Self-Screener
MHA has an excellent screening tool that can allow you to see for yourself whether or not you may be struggling with anything from depression and anxiety to PTSD or bipolarism. Some people respond better to information they gather themself from a reputable source versus that shared by a friend or loved one.
- Learn About Their Illness
Even if they don’t want to learn about their illness, you can do your own research to understand their struggles and how to support them. A bonus is that when they do want help, you’ll be more informed on what that may look like.
- Remember: It Is Ultimately Their Decision
As hard as it is to accept, they need to be ready and willing to get help. In the meantime, all you can do is support them.
Unless your loved one is at risk of causing harm to themself or others, or is showing signs of a mental health emergency, you cannot force them into treatment.
How to Cope in the Meantime
If you can’t change your loved one’s mind about getting help, there are steps you can take to cope.
- Take Care of Yourself
The fact that they won’t get help doesn’t mean you can’t.
While you’re dealing with your loved one’s mental illness, it’s important that you practice self-care. It’s stressful to watch someone you love struggle, especially if they refuse to get help. Eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and make sure you are healthy mentally and emotionally.
- Get Support
The fact that they won’t get help doesn’t mean you can’t. Support groups for family members and caregivers of people with mental illness can be a huge help. You might benefit from seeing a therapist, too.
- Set Healthy Boundaries
While you can support your friend or family member, remember that you are not responsible for their health or happiness. There might be times you need to step back from trying to help your loved one, or even take a step back from the relationship. Find healthy boundaries and stick with them.
Bournewood Health Systems is Here for You
Bournewood Health Systems is here for those struggling with mental health and other conditions. With more than 135 years of experience in behavioral healthcare, we’re committed to providing quality treatment, support, hope, and recovery for people of all ages. Contact us to learn more about our programs.