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What to Do if Someone with Bipolar Refuses Treatment

Bipolar disorder is a scary illness, but sometimes even scarier is the idea of treatment. Logically, going to the doctor, getting a diagnosis and getting help doesn’t sound scary, but if you’re the one faced with psychiatrists, personal, probing questions, destroying what you know and treatments that might make you feel worse before you feel better, you might find the concept daunting.

But what do you do if you’re a loved one of a person with bipolar (or another mental illness) who is refusing treatment?

Why Do People Refuse Treatment?

People refuse treatment for many reasons. As I mentioned, one of them is fear of treatment and fear of the unknown but there are other reasons too, such as:

  • Fear of doctors
  • Lack of trust or belief in medical treatment
  • Fear of side effects
  • No wanting to lose the mania of bipolar disorder
  • Fear of labeling and stigma

What’s a Loved One to Do?

And sometimes, when faced with this wall of reasons not to get treatment, it can seem absolutely hopeless to get the person to see reason. But here’s the thing, this wall of reasons basically comes down to only one thing: fear. And bipolar education creates knowledge and that knowledge dispels fear.

Knowledge of Bipolar Treatment Makes Things Less Scary

So my best advice is to take a very logical approach with a loved one and deal with each fear one at a time. Sit down and ask the person why they are refusing treatment. Only he or she knows for sure, so make sure you at least understand his perspective as it’s absolutely real and valid.

And then start dealing with the fear. If the person is afraid of doctors, this is perfectly reasonable. You can help by researching what will happen in the appointment ahead of time. You can help by researching doctors in the area and finding the best one. You can help by facilitating and going to the appointment. You can help by supporting the patient’s wishes during the appointment. Doctors absolutely can be scary but what a patient really needs is someone on his side so that he doesn’t feel “out-gunned” by someone in a position of authority.

If the fear is lack of trust or faith in medical treatment, this is understandable too. Then it’s time to do research on treatments and find success stories for the person to read.

In short, calm, rational conversation can often pinpoint exactly why a person is refusing help and doing some research on your part can help assuage whatever fear the patient may have.

But What if They Still Refuse Treatment?

Okay, but what if you’ve done all that and the person still refuses treatment?

Well then you might want to remind them of what the problems are and what treatment can do. People only need help for a mental illness once the mental illness becomes a problem in their lives like when a person loses a job, or does poorly in school, or destroys relationships and so on. It’s then that help is needed and so it’s entirely appropriate to remind the person of these problems and talk about how something needs to be done to address them. And if not treatment, then what? Does the person want to live without being able to work? Does he not want personal relationships? Does he want to flunk out of school? Probably not. And treatment is the way to address all these issues.

And if you do all that and you’re supportive and your try your best and the person still refuses to budge, then you need to respect his opinion. I know it’s hard to hear when you love someone, but unless the person is a minor or unless he’s a danger to himself or others, the person absolutely has the right to refuse treatment. We’re adults. We get to make choices and then live with the ramifications thereof, even if our loved ones disagree.

(And once that choice is made, you, as a loved one, have your own choices to make, many of which can be very hard, but that will have to wait for another article.)

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

43 thoughts on “What to Do if Someone with Bipolar Refuses Treatment”

  1. My brother and I are struggling with a mother who is bipolar, 80 years old, and it expresses in the form of extreme abuse and hostility to us, her close family, while being effusive and ‘saintly’ to those outside (as if attempting to keep up appearances). Our father is infirm and depends on her for care. She will leave for days at a time, no food in the house. If we provide groceries she goes into a rage upon return, saying we are interfering. We can’t take it anymore.

  2. My daughter behave very agressive after her baby was born. She was having mental problems before ,but nothing like that! She is abusive and agressive toward me. It’s got so bad that I can’t visit my grandson anymore. Additional y to all it looks like her boyfriend also have mental issues. He is also abusive verbally toward me. My daughter doesn’t want any help. She is telling that she is ok. But I am crazy. I cut all connections with them. I can’t see my grandchild. I don’t know what to do !!!!

    1. I have the same problem. I have a sibling with bipolar disorder. He is very aggresive toward me and very nasty. Constantly puts me down then he asks for you to do things for him and if you say no he will make your life miserable. Im sorry your unable to see your grandchild but maybe just maybe for now its for the best. You have to take care of yourself. I cant stand the way my brother talks to my mother. She has always been good to him but we are all getting older and he refuses any kind of help or treatment.

      1. I am also in a very similar situation. I have an older brother who is mentally ill and refuses to get help. He is verbally abusive, especially to our mother, makes threats, and destroys the house. We tried to get him help, but he was sent back home, and it made things worse. At this point, safety is a number one priority. You can’t control others’ decisions, but you can make decisions of your own. It’s awful that that people experience these situations, but it is a relief to know that there are others that understand.

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