If a Person with Mental Illness Won’t Accept His or Her Illness or Help
I answer this question all the time: “How do I help someone with mental illness who denies their mental illness and won’t accept help?” It’s a constant problem for loved ones. People with mental illness frequently won’t accept their mental illness and won’t accept mental illness help because of it. And, not surprisingly, friends and family members don’t know what to do. If you love someone with a mental illness who won’t accept it, here are some suggestions of what to do.
When a Person Won’t Admit to/Accept a Mental Illness
As some people know, there is a clinical condition where a symptom of a person’s mental illness is that he or she can’t see that he or she has a mental illness. This is known as anosognosia. It’s a real, neurological condition. This is most common in those with schizophrenia but it does happen in bipolar disorder as well. This is important to know as these people are not being “difficult” or “lying” about thinking they have a mental illness but, rather, they just can’t see it. Nonetheless, in time, many people with anosognosia do accept help.
Others may not accept a mental illness simply as a coping mechanism. After all, no one wants to believe they are sick.
Talking to a Person Who Won’t Accept His or Her Mental Illness
If you or your loved one is in any danger call 9-1-1. Don’t hesitate. The person may hate you now, but his or her life is more important.
Hotlines are an option if you need help but there is no danger. Find hotlines here.
My opinion is that people with mental illness who can’t or won’t see it, need to be talked to with the two ls: logic and love*.
I’m a big logic person so I suppose I’m biased, but I feel that when you’re talking to someone who is being irrational, talking to them emotionally will just inflame the situation. What you need to do is speak with calm logic. You need to say why you think the person has a mental illness and give specific examples. For example, “I know that those with bipolar disorder can express mania with extreme irritation. I think you have been showing this symptom, particularly when you punched a hole in the wall yesterday.”
Another example, “I know that some people with mental illness experience hallucinations. Do you think it’s possible that when you hear voices that aren’t from people, they may be an example of these hallucinations?”
This type of conversion means you must be educated about the mental illness and it means you need to know the person well enough to give specific, concrete examples. Having this type of conversation in a calm and unemotional manner is hard, I know, but it is possible. And keep in mind that you may have to have this conversation multiple times in order for it to work. Also, picking exactly the right time to have this conversation — such as when the person is being the most rational — is incredibly helpful.
Finally, you need to tell the person this: “I love you. I stand beside you. I will not love you any less even if you have a mental illness.”
While I know you may think this is obvious, it won’t be to the person with mental illness — trust me.
Getting Mental Illness Help for the Person
Keep in mind, the goal for this conversation is to get the person to agree to help — any kind of help. If the person feels more comfortable with a therapist, start there. If the person will see the family doctor, start there. Obviously, if the person does have a serious mental illness, you want him or her to see a psychiatrist, but that may be something best addressed down the road.
Make sure you offer to take the person to the appointment and offer to even be in the appointment. This can make things less intimidating.
Resources for Those with Loved Ones Why Deny Mental Illness and Won’t Get Mental Illness Help
If you think you’re dealing with a person with psychosis (delusions and/or hallucinations) please read these articles. That is an amazing resource whether the person has schizophrenia or not. There is a lot to know about psychosis and this will set you off on the right foot.
- Psychosis Education by the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society
This next book is specifically for dealing with those with a serious mental illness who won’t get help.
Yes, this is my book. I believe this book can truly help loved ones understand depression and bipolar disorder — bother from a clinical perspective and from a lived perspective. Plus it has evidence-based information on many treatment options.
This book provides many ways of attempting to convince a person to get counseling.
This is a book by the noteworthy Julie Fast (along with John D. Preston PsyD ABPP). She gives great information for loving someone with bipolar disorder. Even if your partner refuses help, this book may help you understand him or her.
I know that helping someone with a mental illness who just doesn’t want your help is very hard but, honestly, these resources can help. I wish for you the best of luck and the best of health.
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.