When to Push a Person with Mental Illness Forward

When to Push a Person with Mental Illness Forward

People with mental illness do, sometimes, need a push to make things happen, but when do you push a person with a mental illness forward? Obviously, you should never push a person until he or she breaks – and there is a risk of this with those with mental illness because many of us can’t take the same pressures (stress can cause bipolar hypomania, among other things) that other people can. Nevertheless, a supportive push forward can be helpful but do know when to push a person with mental illness.

Pushing a Person with a Mental Illness Who Won’t Get Help

As my readers know, I’m a big proponent of getting help for mental illness. In fact, I would suggest that you can’t get out of a moderate-to-severe mental illness without help. And if the person does have a serious mental illness? Then the kind of help that is needed is medical.

But what if the person won’t get help for his or her mental illness? Then I say push them. No, I don’t mean nag them every day. No, I don’t mean send them daily emails, either. But I do mean making help as attractive an option as you can and make not getting help as unattractive as you can; and have the mental-illness-help conversation over and over until something sticks. It’s up to you as to how frequently this is. It might be once after each crisis or it might be once per month but I say push a person with a mental illness to get help – especially if the mental illness is serious.

And keep in mind, mental illness help might come in stages. The first stage might be to read a book on mental illness. The next might be joining a support group. And it might be only then that the person reaches out to someone medically. This is okay. Anywhere on the path is still on the path.

Pushing a Person with a Mental Illness Who Won’t Adhere to Treatment

Again, my readers know that I think treatment is essential to beating a mental illness – especially a serious one. This may not mean medication; this may mean therapy, exercise, use of a lightbox and so on.

Consider smart ways to help a loved one get back on the mental illness treatment bandwagon:

  1. Find out why your loved one isn’t adhering to treatment. There are many reasonable reasons a person might be treatment nonadherent.
  2. Take these concerns seriously. If they are stopping your loved one from continuing treatment, they matter.
  3. See if you can address the issue(s). This might mean changing doctors or therapists, trying a new treatment or removing other roadblocks.
  4. Once any possible roadblocks have been removed, then start to facilitate getting treatment. (Such as by picking up prescriptions, driving the person to appointments and so on.)
  5. If the person still refuses treatment, then really get down to the bottom of why as it sounds like he or she wasn’t honest in step one.

This is the kind of pushing a person with a mental illness needs – loving pushing. Helpful pushing. The kind of pushing that listens to his or her needs and tries to make sure they are met.

Of course this won’t work all the time, put it’s a good blueprint for a starting point. (You may also want to reach my complete article on what to do about medication noncompliance/nonadherence.)

Pushing a Person with a Mental Illness Who Does Nothing

Sometimes a person with a mental illness needs a push to make a positive step forward but when should you push a person with a mental illness?If the person with a mental illness has gotten help and is adhering to treatment but is doing nothing with her or her life, it might be time for another push. A life where you sit on your couch and watch television all day eating bonbons is not much of a life at all and won’t be sustaining or fulfilling, even if it feels like it’s all the person with the mental illness wants to do.

Try to help the person get a job or do some time of other weekly activity. And, again, find out why the person is not doing anything. There may be roadblocks there that you can remove here, too.

A job might be a very part-time job (say, only one day a week) or it might be a volunteer job but a job (in my opinion) is critical in developing self-worth. Try to push the person with the mental illness by offering up job suggestions, looking on Craigslist for jobs that might be appropriate. Get the person’s resume up-to-date.

Other things the person with the mental illness might do includes:

  • Art – many of us are creative in some way
  • Writing/journaling – I’m not talking anything professional here, just personal writing for enjoyment’s sake
  • Joining a social or support group
  • Playing a sport – double-positive on this one as it gets a person out of the house and it provides exercise
  • Partaking in a hobby
  • Chores around the house (Believe it or not contributing to the household can also make a person feel good about his or herself. I might suggest this is an important one to include even alongside others.)

And remember, doing something once a week is better than not doing anything. Start small and move forward building on that in a positive way rather than focusing on the fact that six days a week the person does nothing.

When Not to Push a Person with a Mental Illness

There are times when it’s best not to push a person with a mental illness, however. These might be:

  • Right after we’ve already heard you harp on about it. Give us a break, please.
  • During a crisis. Crisis management does not include pushing a person to do something they don’t want to do unless absolutely necessary (such as hospitalization – people don’t want it, generally, but sometimes it’s needed).
  • When we’re doing the best we can. Look, if someone is trying really hard to live a life including positive activities and trying to keep up with treatment and trying to get better – please don’t further push him or her just because your standards say it’s “not enough.”
  • When we’ve just made a positive step, please don’t tell us the step isn’t big enough. Our timetable is our, not yours. If we move forward an inch, it’s as big as your mile, trust me.

Remember, your well-meaning pushing of a person with a mental illness can be harmful if you’re not careful.

After You Push a Person with a Mental Illness and He or She Moves Forward

And do remember this: when we do move forward – thanks to your supportive pushing or not – celebrate our achievement! Like I said, a forward move may be tiny – it may take the form of getting the mail and dealing with it each day; it may take the form of making an appointment with a therapist; it may take the form of keeping the kitchen clean; or it may take the form of volunteering three hours a week – it doesn’t matter. That forward move is an achievement for us. Be positive about it. Celebrate the little things. We need this validation that we’re doing the right thing because it can be very hard (very hard) for us.

Because no matter how you pushed, pulled or dragged us, we still ultimately made the choice to do it and that is a big deal indeed.

Note: People ask me about loved ones who won’t get help all the time and I tell them about this book: You Need Help. It’s a book with many, many strategies designed to convince a loved one to get help. This is not an endorsement by me, but you might find it worth checking out. It’s by a doctor who seems to know his stuff.

Image by Veronica Agullar.


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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