When Your Loved Ones Don’t Believe in Mental Illness

December 16, 2015 Natasha Tracy

The holidays are here and one of the issues people face when spending time with family is that some loved ones don’t believe in mental illness. This lack of belief often upsets people with mental illness tremendously and makes them even doubt themselves and their own experiences. This lack of belief can be very detrimental, indeed. But you needn’t be so harshly affected when your loved ones don’t believe in mental illness.

Why Don’t Loved Ones Believe in Mental Illness?

Well, of course, the answer to this question is individual to the person, but some reasons are:

  • They have their own mental illness and don’t want to face it (a very big one, in my opinion)
  • They don’t want to believe you’re sick because they love you
  • They’re uneducated and ignorant about mental illness or mental illness treatment
  • They have a religion that teaches them not to believe in mental illness
  • They have had powerful, past experiences that form their current opinion

Their Lack of Belief in Mental Illness Isn’t about You

In short, none of those things are your fault and none of them are about you. You did nothing wrong. You are just a person with a mental illness that is bumping up against someone that is unsupportive and just, plain wrong. I know it hurts when that person is a loved one, but they are no more right than a Scientologist or an antipsychiatrist. And, let’s face it, most of us have areas of our lives that are not supported by loved ones for one reason or another (With Mental Illness In The Family, You Don't Get Lasagna).

Handling a Loved One’s Lack of Belief in Mental Illness

Loved ones may not believe in mental illness. Not a problem - unless you live with mental illness. How do you handle people who don't believe in mental illness?When you have to attend holiday functions, you likely can’t simply avoid that family member who doesn’t believe in mental illness, perhaps like you could the rest of the year, and this will likely put extra pressure on you. I wish I had a magical answer that would fix that, but I don’t. What I will say, though, is that you need to fight the idea that the other person is spreading lest you internalize it, which, honestly, even the best of us run the risk of doing. So,

  • Try to remember that other people don’t have to believe in science (or mental illness) for it to be real and accurate.
  • Your experience cannot be unlived or unremembered just because of someone else’s denial. It’s like someone who denies the holocaust (a real thing) – it happened and no amount of denial will ever change that.
  • While it may feel like this person is discounting you as a person, they likely don’t see it that way. This is a difference of opinion and try to remember to frame it that way even if this difference of opinion is an extremely critical one in your own life.
  • Remember all the people who believe in you and know that your mental illness is real. These people are the ones that you need to surround yourself with, or at least check in with, over the holidays. Enlist that support network whenever you can.
  • Don’t internalize someone else’slack of belief. What’s going on in your life is real and you need to accept it and not let anyone take that away from you.

And here’s something I can say, personally. I didn’t used to believe in mental illness. I didn’t. I thought depression was just weakness, and a lot of other uneducated things. But I came around. And others may come around, too, but it may take a long time and a lot of convincing.

Of course, convincing them of your mental illness is not your job. Like 12-step groups say, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Like I said, I know it may hurt, but you may have to make your peace with it and just say, loudly and proudly, that someone else’s ignorance isn’t going to ruin your holiday. Your experiences are yours and they are real. Period.

How Denying Mental Illness Hurts Your Loved Ones

A video you might want to share with your loved ones is this one I made on how harmful it is to deny a family member's mental illness.

Image provided by Jay's Thought Stream.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2015, December 16). When Your Loved Ones Don’t Believe in Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Kelly R.
April, 4 2021 at 9:51 am

I have Bi-Polar disorder. My father told me, "You're not mentally ill. You don't need medications." He has always dismissed my illness, making me feel like my struggles in life have only been a result of my being an underachiever. I actually started doubting my reality, until I tried going off me meds with disastrous consequences. Now I just don't listen to him. My experience is real, whether he chooses to accept it or not.

June, 19 2020 at 9:27 pm

I cannot remember a day when I wasn’t confused. It started out small. Little things, and as time passes more little things, until the moment where I decided to talk to a psychiatrist.
You see my family doesn’t believe in mental illness. To them, I’m making it up. Oh how I wish I was making it up.
I have anxiety, major depression, ocd, and schizophrenia.
Everyday is a struggle. I’ve been seeing people when I’m driving. The kicker is I don’t know if it’s real or not. So usually I will look back and most times no ones there.
There’s so many more things.
The ocd is terrible. Makes it hard for me to trust in myself.
I do hear things sometimes but it’s mostly people and shadows that I see.
The anxiety is nothing compared to the others.
I have family members that don’t believe in mental illness. I’m not going to lie. That hurts. But hell thats life I guess. We are all allowed our own thoughts and perceptions.
But the fear of looking in peoples eyes, And looking at peoples privates. yeah, that’s a hard thing to live with. Because I’m not feeling aroused I’m feeling scared and uncomfortable. That’s a hard one lately.
I saw this web page and thought why not just talk and tell about my story.?
Im not gunna lie, sometimes I do think about killing myself. Impossible that someone has it as bad as me. Not saying anyone’s pain is less than mine. Maybe just different?

P Jones
July, 1 2020 at 10:06 pm

Hello, sweet one!
Invalidation is, especially, damaging when it involves an illness that isn’t physically apparent. If one is not taking chemotherapy or insulin or visibly disabled - the illness doesn’t seem real to those who are uneducated or under-educated on the subject of mental illness.
Each different victim of mental illness must find the right formula for their particular situation. No situation is the same and there is no single “one size fits all” method.
With a counselor, finding a solution might be attainable.
I, personally, had to distance myself from those who don’t possess a deep understanding of mental illness. I have not spoken to my family in over 2 years.....and the only emotion I feel is relief. I love them and understand that they didn’t choose the way they see and react to the world - any more than I chose my interpretation and reaction to the world.
But, It’s very sad that I had to choose between an environment that feels safe and promotes emotional regulation ...or a family environment that invalidates mental illness and attempts deflect and “gloss over” any behaviors deemed negative or out of the box.
I chose no contact with family (and others who just don’t “get” it) and feel better than I have in ages. I have chosen to pay the price. And the price of having no family is a pretty big one. But living in relative peace without triggered episodes of extreme emotional dysregulation - is worth that price.
I hear you. And I wish you the best in navigating the rough waters of mental illness. One day, society will look back in horror at the way those with mental illness were treated. But until then, we must find the path that works best for us, individually.

Serenity P.
December, 11 2018 at 9:47 pm

I have (from my own research because my of my parents and labels): Schizophrenia, Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, ADHD/ADD, OCD, and Homicidal Ideation( <-- Which is very often, urges and all). That seems like I am exaggerating. I know. But I am not. I have cut myself or stopped eating before. My dad (specifically) doesn't believe in "labels". Everything is a challenge for me. I hate it. I would get professional help but my dad, 'doesn't like councilors' and plus it is not like we could afford it. For all I know I need to be in a psychiatric ward. What do I do?

Teddy from Sydney
December, 30 2018 at 11:39 pm

You do need help. I’m sorry your dad is like that. You can’t do it alone. Who else can you reach out too? Is there anyone who you trust?
Self harm is very serious and addictive. It’s not a game it’s not for attention. They are warning signs that you need support and help.
I’m sorry thing are so painful. I hope you find someone to help you.
I have found the emergency department at hospital very very helpful when I was desperate.
What country are you in?
Hospital is a safe place and people are trained to understand trauma and mental illness.
If your parents won’t understand you need to by pass them.

May, 27 2018 at 12:54 pm

What do I do when it is personal? I have a severe case of PTSD from childhood abuse and then was abused by various doctors and nurses when I started seeking help. Two of my family members wrote it all off, apparently because I'm a 'dramatic' person, and was 'probably exaggerating'. I'm sure that these opinions arise from the general stigma against the mentally ill, but in this case it was really a personal attack. I don't know how to handle people labeling me like that and refusing to take any of my experiences seriously.

August, 12 2017 at 4:13 pm

I believe that I have suffer from bipolar. I've read alot about it and watched videos of others experiences with bipolar and how they found out that they had bipolar and I have much in common with them when it comes to the symptoms of it and iv e just been thinking back on my life and iv e been able to point out the times I was manic in which I have been more than once and I can point out all my depression episodes. the only problem with this is my family. My parents don't and won't except this. I'm currently in school and I want to just find out if I'm not just tripping or being silly before school starts because if it is true that I am bipolar then I want to find ways I can keep this from effecting my academic performance. I just wanna get past all of this feeling of somthing I cant properly explain without someone saying theyvthey've been through what I've been through and making it seem like I'm overreacting because my experiences have been more intense then what their describing and it hurts me cuss my feelings aren't valid..... I can't type everything I want because my mind is racing of things I wanna say but everything I start to type one thing my mind is already on the next sentence and I can't catch up with it most of the time that's why I'm mostly a quiet person. but yeah I need help lol or at least advice to keep me moving forward i guess. it's come to the point where I sometimes deny and tell myself I'm overreacting and it makes me frustrated because I know I'm not but I say I am to protect my self in a way even though it hurts. I don't know what's wrong with me but I do know there's something wrong. I need advice or something!!!

Isabella Morgan
May, 7 2017 at 11:02 pm

It's been a while since you posted this and i don't know if you're still responding but lately I've been having some difficulties. My mom has always had a negative attitude towards mental illness because of both religion and her belief that there is no scientific evidence, no matter ho much I try to prove otherwise. I haven't told her what's going on with me because, honestly I don't know myself and that terrifies me. I hate myself, I get about 3-5 hours of sleep a night, and I've been losing motivation for the things I used enjoy like school and volleyball. But I don't know if I'm just doing this for attention and I don't want to bring my mom into anything if there's nothing even there. I constantly feel as if I let down everybody around me and I have a fear of sharing feelings because of experiences I had when I was younger. I've self harmed before but not to commit suicide, although I have thought about it before (not necessarily killing myself because my mom always said that was cowardly and ungodly but more like dying in general), I guess just to put a physical pain to what I was feeling (to make it more real?). I'm terrified that I'm making this all up or imagining it and I'm ultimately just going to end up wasting everyone's time and I hate complaining when I know people have it way worse than I do (cause really why am I even feeling this way when people are suffering in ways that makes my pain look like a trip at Disneyland). I just need answers and I'm too scared to go to my mom for them because of past experiences and out of fear of wasting her time

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
May, 15 2017 at 11:53 am

Hi Isabella,
Thank you for reaching out here. I do not believe you are wasting anyone's time. Your mental health is important. Whether you have a diagnosable condition or just need more love and support from your family, it is important.
if your mom is not supportive, I recommend you see a school counselor. They may be able to help you or help you talk to your mom.
You can also call a helpline and talk to someone there. We have many listed here:…
You do not have to be suicidal to call a helpline.
Do not think you are wasting anyone's time. You are important and so is your mental health.
- Natasha Tracy

April, 10 2017 at 3:55 am

No one from my family believes me. I suffer from anxiety, and depersonalization.
I just always feel out of reality. I often don't respond to people while being spoken to, or stare at a spot at an excessive amount of time. I once had a panic attack at school, in which the school called my mother, after returning home, she claimed that I should research things online, and started laughing. I broke down, crying in front of her. She continued laughing, and then expected me to tell her about my feelings. I'm a mere 12 year old girl, and I'm in need of professional help. I can't do this anymore.

February, 18 2016 at 9:42 am

I told my mum I am mentally ill and she said 'that's because you watched that programme yesterday! No you're not!' And she started laughing. She hasn't called me since I told her. What do I have to do? Jump of a building or cut myself for people to believe me? I have not been diagnosed yet but my doctor said 6 weeks ago that she felt something was very wrong so referred me to a psychiatrist, my first assessment was Tuesday. My next appointment is next week, After the reaction from mum I am now sometimes thinking it's in my head, may be I'm absorbing all the information from the mental health related documentaries I've been watching for the past 6 weeks, Maybe I want to be bipolar. I am very confused and so scared to tell anyone. I really don't know what's going on in my head

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
February, 18 2016 at 9:55 am

Hi Ju,
It's hard for some parents to believe their children have mental illnesses. This is pretty normal. It's also normal to doubt yourself if you get that kind of reaction. But, please, listen to your psychiatrist as he or she is the expert in their field, not your parent. You may wish to take your parent to your appointment with you so that you parent can hear from the doctor exactly what is happening. That may help her digest it in a more useful way.
If you have another, more supportive, person in your life, don't be afraid to reach out to him or her. You need that support and you will find it, even if it isn't your mom right now.
- Natasha Tracy

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Skyler sharp
October, 24 2018 at 11:21 am

I saw your comment and I felt the same way for a while my mom was in denial about my mental illness and I started to believe that I had fabricated this idea that I was sick. I ended up talking to my doctor during my well checkup and she wanted to know more about my illness. She separated me from my mom and allowed me to talk without my mother’s presence distracting me. She concluded that I needed therapy and talked to my mother for me and it cleared a lot up. I can really relate to you because I felt very trapped keeping it in. Try to tell an adult other than your mom or just find a positive way to vent your frustrations until you can talk to a doctor.

January, 11 2016 at 5:13 pm

Thank you for posting this...I am experiencing this a lot, but more so with my co-workers, including a manager. I've had so much anxiety going to work lately. If you have an advice please feel free to e-mail me. Thanks again.

December, 16 2015 at 9:33 am

For the religious, they forget that Jesus did heal many by casting out their demons.
For Christmas gifts for those that don't believe, then may have to buy them the gift of the famous 1970's tune--They Are Coming To Take Me Away.
It goes something like this. 'They are coming to take me away ha, ha. They are coming to take me away he, he, ha, ha, ho, ho. Yes to that Funny Farm and that is where I belong so they are coming to take me away he, he, ha, ha, ho, ho...
Maybe that tune for a gift will clue them in?

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