Why Don’t People Get Help for Mental Illness?

Why Don’t People Get Help for Mental Illness?

There is a lot of help available for people with a mental illness. There are hotlines, mental health resource locators, therapists, doctors and many others. And yet, many people with a mental illness continue to live every day with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses without getting help.

And what’s worse is that we know that by not getting help, or by delaying help, the course of the overall illness and outcome is worse.

So why don’t people get help for mental illness?

People are Scared of Mental Illness

If I Deny Mental Illness Then I'm Not SickThe number one reason people don’t get help for mental illness is because they are scared. People are scared of their illness and they’re certainly scared of help for that mental illness. Honestly, it’s a complicated piece of psychology, but in a nutshell – if you don’t admit to the mental illness, then it isn’t really there. It’s the head in the sand approach. It happens with all illnesses. No one wants to be sick so they deny it and just hope it’ll go away.

Of course, mental illness doesn’t tend to just “go away” on its own.

I understand fear of mental illness. Between the media stereotypes and common misconceptions about mental illness, it’s no wonder that no one wants to admit to it. And the misunderstandings of the general public and the nasty things people say about mental illness don’t help either.

And it’s awfully scary to face the dark side of yourself where the mental illness lives. It is nearly impossible to admit to suicidal or self-harm feelings because you want to judge them and you feel terrible about them and you’re worried about how other people will judge you because of them.

The trouble is – if you don’t admit there is a problem, you will never find a solution.

Anosognosia – A Lack of Insight into Mental Illness

And this presupposes that the person with the mental illness isn’t suffering from anosognosia – which is a clinical lack of insight into their disorder. This mostly occurs in people who are psychotic who are convinced they are “fine” and often that others are “out to get them.”

People are Scared of Mental Illness Help

Help for a Mental IllnessSimilarly, people are terrified of what will happen if they do agree to mental illness help. Visions of over-medicated zombies and electrocutions tend to dance in people’s heads not to mention forced incarcerations in asylums.

But, of course, in reality, none of these things are very realistic. They are common in the movies, not so common in real life. Life is not Girl, Interrupted or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Unfortunately, people don’t have the experience to know differently.

But the fact is, many people successfully get on helpful psychiatric medication fairly quickly, most don’t need electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and most never experience and involuntary commitment to a hospital.

People are Overwhelmed with Mental Illness

And let’s not forget, the person who need the help, the person with the mental illness themselves, is the person in the worst place mentally. They aren’t making the best decisions. They’re scared; they feel alone, like a “freak.” They’re doing everything they can just to survive another day. The idea of then seeking out help on top of that is terrifying and completely overwhelming.

Helping People with a Mental Illness Get Help

So please understand, a person with a mental illness isn’t necessarily just being obstinate or difficult by refusing help, they are just experiencing what I would consider to be a pretty natural stage in the evolution of acceptance of a serious illness.

There is a lot to know about helping someone with a mental illness but you can start by learning:

And remember, the person with the mental illness might not come around immediately, but your love and your desire to help them will matter in the long run. Being there for someone when they feel scared and alone is very hard, but is a gift like none other.


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.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.

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