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How to Help People in Denial of Their Mental Illness

Do you know people in denial of their mental illness? If so, you know getting them help is impossible. Here's how to help a person stop denying mental illness.

The first stage of mental illness is denial. It’s also a common symptom of mental illness and a barrier to treatment. So how do you help people in denial of their mental illness? While it may seem hopeless, there’s actually quite a bit that you can do.

Things to Do to Help Someone in Denial of Their Mental Illness

1. Challenge Stigma

Stigma is a barrier to treatment. Many people in denial about their mental illness are influenced by stigma. They want to believe they’re too good and that mental illness is a character flaw. They want to believe that if they just had enough faith, God would heal them. They want to believe they can just snap out of it by thinking positive thoughts. The list of what they want to believe instead of accepting reality is usually grounded in stigma.

So challenge stigma when you hear it. Let them know that the stigma is baseless. Tell them they are not crazy, psycho, schizo, loony, or whatever the current term is. Help them realize that they’re not weak, bad, or somehow deficient–they’re sick. Remember, mental illness is caused by a combination of environmental and physical factors–it is a legitimate medical illness.

2. Set Personal Limits and Stick to Them

Do you know people in denial of their mental illness? If so, you know getting them help is impossible. Here's how to help a person stop denying mental illness.Sometimes you have to give a little tough love. For example, my ex-fiance had borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. He went off his medication, telling me “Medication don’t do nothing Jesus can’t.” He then became abusive, and I told him, “Either you go back on your medication and get back in therapy or it’s over.” Long story short, he flew into a rage, said he was fine and God would heal him and I’m happily single.

Did it hurt to lay down the law? Yes. Did it hurt to lose him? Yes, for a few minutes, then it felt like a great big weight had been lifted off of me. I had to set limits for my sanity’s sake and for my physical and mental safety.

When someone you love has a mental illness but is in denial about it, you have to set limits and stick to them. Tell him/her you love and support him/her and don’t want to see him/her destroy him/herself. Suggest when appropriate and timely that a mental health professional might be able to help more than you. Listen, but say when you can’t help and it might be time to talk to a counselor. Be a broken record until the idea is finally accepted.

3. Support the Person When He/She Seeks Help

The best thing you can do for someone with mental illness is be there. When he/she finally sees that he/she needs help, support that decision. Offer to help the person get to and from appointments. Tell the person repeatedly that he/she are doing the right thing. Encourage progress. Tell the person that you love him/her and are proud of him/ her. Seeking help is a difficult decision, tell the person you know that.

People in Denial of Their Mental Illness Need Your Support

There will be good days and bad days. Recognize this, and encourage them to stay on their medication and in therapy. Recovery is real when people are in treatment. Let them know that. Call them on it when they start thinking they’re cured; always encourage them to discuss any changes in their treatment plan with their provider.

Denial of mental illness is powerful, but it can be overcome. Be ready to fight to help your loved one in denial of his/her psychiatric symptoms.

You can also find Becky Oberg on Google+Facebook and Twitter and Linkedin.

11 thoughts on “How to Help People in Denial of Their Mental Illness”

  1. My cousin lost his mother about 4 years ago. He never grieved correctly and it’s only getting worse and worse. He’s angry at everyone all the time and refuses any kind of treatment. He also never had a good relationship with his father, it’s now getting to the point where he is becoming physical and taking it out on his girlfriend by hitting her. He will be triggered by any little thing. He doesn’t want help from anyone and if you suggest it he turns it around as if he’s better than that and doesn’t need it. He’s threatened suicide and shooting others in his time of rage. How to we get him to get help without pushing him completely over the edge. I truly feel like I’ve lost my best friend.

    1. Hi Stacey,

      I’m so sorry you are in this situation. If your cousin is hitting his girlfriend, considering suicide, and threatening to shoot others, you need to think of everyone’s safety first. Please call 911 or the proper authorities if he is threatening to harm himself or others.


  2. My sister is incapable of being able to see reality from truth. She believes she is in a major love story with an Egyptian man which has been going on for 12 years. She lives in the UK, he lives in Cairo. The truth is that she has sent thousands upon thousands of pounds to him over the years for so many reasons its incredulous. Most are hospital and operation bills. She has been made bankrupt, house about to be repossessed creditors after her all the time, inland revenue chasing her but she still won’t believe this man is a con man. We have tried supporting th fantasy and allowing her to talk about it as if real . Softly softly approach. We have challenged her and asked her to ask questions. Nothing has worked. We are at our wits end as to how to deal with the situation. How do we get help for her. ?

    1. Hi Rachel,

      I know how hard it can be when someone refuses to see reality. There certainly is no easy way to deal with this.

      I recommend you look up the book “You Need Help” https://www.amazon.com/You-Need-Help-Step-Step/dp/1616491485/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1511964756&sr=1-1&keywords=you+need+help as it’s specifically about getting your loved one into therapy. You may or may not believe she needs therapy, but I suspect in her situation, she does.

      (I have no affiliation with the book and neither does HealthyPlace.)

      I hope that helps.

      – Natasha Tracy

  3. My husbands denial of mental illness is making life a living hell everyday I am begging his family for help but they do nothing I am at of my rope I have a 2 year old son in the mix too.

  4. My co-worker has been telling me that her church has been bugging her phones and people are breaking into her home and leaving things to make it look like she is stealing from our boss. All the time saying “I’m not crazy.” It goes on. I reported to my boss in hopes that we could get help, instead my co-worker was given the choice of getting therapy or leaving the job. She left. I work for a psychologist. My boss says there is nothing at all we can do if my co-worker refuses treatment. This can’t be right. Please tell me something different.

    1. Thank you for your comment. If your co-worker refuses treatment and she isn’t ready to get help, no therapy or program is going to get through to her. It’s amazing how much you care but she needs to see that something isn’t right and she has to be the catalyst for change. Anything else is going to be futile.

  5. You’re so cool! I do not suppose I’ve truly read anything like
    that before. So wonderful to discover another person with some original thoughts on this issue.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website
    is one thing that’s needed on the web, someone with a little originality!

  6. Denial of mental illness indicates great and serious impediment to mindful psychiatric treatment, because it exist still huge and unbroken stigma against mental health respectively mental illnesses. So it is very important to persuade anyone with mental difficulties to accept professional psychiatric help. Your three recommendations have got great positive impact in due time to begin with psychiatric treatment, because mental diseases have tendencies to develop hard and irreversible complications for global health welfare. In this direction it ought to make maximal effort to avoid the prejudices and different misconceptions of real nature of mental disorders. In my daily practice, as clinical psychiatrist the paradigm of prevention of any mental disorder contribute to soften the denial of comprehensive and mindful psychiatric treatment. There are a lot of psychiatric patients whose remark of prevention of serious and difficult mental disorders with appropriate psychiatric help is efficient. This psychiatric trick isn’t any laying of any patient but a right way to take psychiatric medication or/and others psychiatric intervention. However current psychiatric treatment and management is the main treatment of mental disorders which one didn’t exclude any others comparative mental help such are some psycho-social interventions. To achieve the up to date intention of psychiatric treatment and management of mental illnesses, it should insist on instant and on specific shedule of respective mental disorder.

  7. I am suffering with loneliness and fear now because of my environment ostricizing me and making fun of me for 3 years now!, I asked for help in the town I live but Boone would support me!,Now I am currently emotionally mentally and physically I’ I am giving up inside! I’m not happy anymore. There is also to much stress on my back with no support. I don’t know what I am going to do!, I have noone.What shall I do ? I’m getting worse!

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