Do you have a loved one struggling with their mental health but refusing treatment and support? Are you feeling lost and confused about what to do next? How to get someone mental help when they refuse? If so, this article is for you. Below we’ll explore why mental health treatment is so important for those struggling and what you can do to help your reluctant loved one finally get the help they need.
Understand that legal adults have a right to refuse therapy and medication, no matter how much you want it for them or believe it will help. You can’t force anyone into an involuntary commitment to a treatment program.
Still, whether a loved one has a serious mental illness or is showing early symptoms, mental health issues can be a significant concern for family members or other loved ones. The individual’s refusal of treatment can be a stressful experience. So, while you can’t force anyone into treatment, there are some steps and approaches you can use to encourage them to change their mind.
Before we get into the advice, let’s first look at the importance of mental health treatment.
Mental health treatment
The quality of compassionate and informed mental health treatment has made great strides since the mid-20th century. Nowadays, there exists a broad range of therapy and pharmacological interventions for all kinds of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, mood disorders, personality disorders, and general stress-related conditions and disorders.
Moreover, beyond therapy and medication, research has paved the way for a greater understanding of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), allowing practitioners and providers to take a holistic approach to mental health treatment. These multifaceted approaches prioritize a person’s whole health and well-being rather than simply reducing a person to a set of symptoms that need to be managed.
Still, many people in need of professional help and support for their mental health are reluctant, or outright against, seeking and receiving that support. There are several reasons one might refuse help, the most common of which we’ll explore in this article. Whatever the reason, it’s undeniably challenging and confusing for families and loved ones of those suffering from mental health issues when they refuse treatment.
If you’re a family member, partner, or anyone else with a loved one who refuses to take the mental help they need, then read on. We’ll highlight common reasons why people refuse help, and we’ll offer some useful advice to help you help that person make a wise choice if they’re struggling with any of the following mental health disorders:
- Anxiety (generalized, social, panic, OCD, phobias)
- Bipolar disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance use disorder
- Behavioral/process addictions (gambling, sex, spending, gaming, internet)
- Narcissistic personality disorder
The importance of mental health treatment
Many mental health conditions are progressive – they get worse over time without treatment. For example, if one struggles with substance abuse but seeks or receives no support, their misuse of drugs or alcohol will lead to dependence, a need to use a substance to feel ‘normal’ and functional. Dependence progresses into addiction, a chronic health issue that compels the person to use despite clearly negative consequences and fatal without treatment.
Depression may also be progressive, according to research. Thus, the longer a person goes without treatment, the stronger the illness becomes. In later stages and extreme cases of clinical depression, those struggling face an increased risk of self-harm and suicide.
In both depression and substance use disorder, just two of an extensive list of progressive mental health conditions, the case for early treatment is clear. One might refuse treatment altogether, but the fact remains that mental health issues, if not intervened early, can be fatal. As such, if your loved one is struggling but refuses help, you’re doing the right thing but trying to figure out how to get them the support they need.
Let’s look at things from a different angle. As mentioned earlier, mental health treatment has achieved great feats in recent decades. A large majority of people who receive mental health support successfully recover from their conditions.
Why do people refuse mental health treatment?
There has for a long time been a stigma around mental health and seeking treatment. Fortunately, this stigma has lifted significantly in recent years with an exponential increase in mental health advocacy. The use of the internet, particularly social media, has been used to promote the importance of mental health awareness and provide a greater understanding of different, more holistic approaches to help and access help from mental health professionals from the comfort of your own home. Still, the stigma exists and is particularly impactful to older generations who may still hold or be influenced by outdated ideas and judgments.
However, it’s essential to understand that stigma is not the only barrier to treatment. To claim otherwise would negate the many other reasons which need to be known rather than ignored.
Other reasons why one might refuse to receive or seek treatment include:
- Negative past experiences in healthcare
- Overwhelm and confusion with the logistics of mental healthcare
- Fear of the consequences of admitting one’s mental illness (job loss, loss of custody…)
- Past invalidation of one’s personal experience and the confusion and self-doubt that follows (not wanting that to happen again)
- Fear of shame and judgment (stigma)
- Socioeconomic barriers to healthcare
- Denial of the problem
- Doubt about the effectiveness of therapy
- Fear of complex emotions and upsetting memories that therapy may uncover
What to do when a loved one says no to mental help
Educate yourself on their illness
Learn about your loved one’s experience to ease some of your fear and confusion. By increasing your understanding of what they’re going through, you feel more grounded and secure, and you’ll also find it easier to understand and listen to them.
There are plenty of psychoeducational resources available online. If they already have a diagnosis, you can find a wealth of information, including research, tips for support, and types of treatment online. If you’re not sure exactly what they’re suffering from, but you notice distinct symptoms, then look online or speak directly to mental health professionals such as your family doctor or a therapist who can offer some answers.
Don’t push too hard
You might be tempted to push, demand, or exert authority over the loved one in one question because you know that professional help is for the best. Even if there is discomfort and resistance now, you believe that everything will be ok once they get that help. It’s normal to think this way, especially when you’re deeply concerned about your loved one’s well-being, but it’s maladaptive.
The more demanding and controlling you become with someone who refuses to seek mental health support, the less likely they want to receive it. Of course, that doesn’t mean letting things go completely and not even trying to help them, and you can still offer support and adapt your behavior to encourage them to get help. The main thing to understand is that mental health treatment of any kind will always be more effective when the person struggling is willing to engage.
Share your concerns
While you shouldn’t push too hard or for anyone to do anything, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your concerns with your affected loved one. By sharing how you feel maturely and compassionately, you show your loved ones how much you care. You show them how their behavior – their refusal to get help – worries you only because you’re concerned with their health and well-being and not because you’re offended that they’re not doing what you want them to do.
When you share your concerns, be careful to take the path of blame and projection. You’ll want to focus on how you feel, not on flaws or mistakes in their behavior.
As a parent, sibling, or close friend, you’re naturally going to want to help those you love, so when they come to you with financial worries or nowhere to sleep, you’ll most certainly want to help. However, it’s essential to be mindful of how you help them. Sometimes even when we have the best intention at heart, we enable the affected person’s unhealthy behavior.
When setting boundaries, it’s important to let the person know why the boundary exists – that it’s for both of your well-being and is in no way a form of punishment or a lack of love and care. Bear in mind that substance use among family members can be a traumatic experience for young children in the home, so you may need to set boundaries around space.
Explain the benefits of mental health treatment
Try to enlighten your loved ones on the broad range of benefits they can achieve from willingly accepting help. This can be challenging if they don’t want to listen or deny that there’s a problem in the first place. If you do find the opportunity to speak to them about their issues, including the benefits of seeking mental health treatment. Please educate yourself on the types of treatment available for their specific issues and reach out to mental health professionals to help you better understand them.
Seek support for yourself
If you’re struggling to cope with a loved one’s mental health issues and their refusal to get treatment, arrange some help and support for yourself. A loved one’s mental health issues can be mentally exhausting and stressful whether they accept treatment or not. Speak to a counselor or therapist about your concerns. This is a matter of prioritizing your well-being so that you can maintain your own mental and emotional health regardless of your loved one’s situation.
Arrange an intervention
That being said, sometimes, there is an urgent need to get help for that person. Other than pushing it yourself, which can lead to confrontation and sometimes even aggression and violence, it may be wise to seek the support of a professional interventionist.
An intervention is a mental health professional who can come to your home or the home of your loved one with a support team and arrange a family meeting in which family members share their concerns and express their love and support for the person struggling.
There is hope for those struggling with mental health. Many people can and do recover from all mental health issues with adequate and timely treatment. Still, understand that your loved one’s refusal of help is not your fault and need not be a source of guilt.
If you find yourself in this situation, the most important thing you can do is seek support for yourself. Connect with support groups, other family members, your family doctor, therapists, or counselors, and seek all the support you can get. You want your loved one to get better, but if you don’t look after yourself first, then you’ll be less able to help them anyway. Finally, if you believe that you’re in immediate danger due to your loved one’s behavior, don’t hesitate to call for help.