Can You Help Someone With Mental Illness Who Does Not Want Help?

Posted on March 14, 2022

hand reaching out to help woman with mental illness

Mental health issues are more common in the United States than many people realize. According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), about one in five people live with some form of mental health concern. Mental illness can take many forms and can range in severity from mild to severe. Helping someone you love with mental illness who doesn’t want help can be a challenge, but there are some steps that friends and family members can take.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness is divided into two broad categories: Any Mental Illness (AMI) and Serious Mental Illness (SMI). Someone with AMI is experiencing a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. The person may have little to no impairment, or their mental illness may be causing damage to them and their life that is mild or moderate.

SMI is any form of mental, behavioral, or emotional mental illness that is severely impacting someone’s life. They may have issues functioning day-to-day and find their activities limited. About 14 million adults were found to have SMI in 2020, with a little more than 9 million receiving treatment for their mental health in the past year.

Signs of Mental Illness

When it comes to mental illness, people’s situations and experiences may differ.

If someone you know is exhibiting several of the following symptoms, they may be dealing with a mental health problem:

  • Sleep or appetite changes
  • Mood changes
  • Withdrawal
  • Decrease in functioning
  • Problems with thinking or memory
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Apathy
  • Feeling disconnected
  • Illogical thinking
  • Nervousness
  • Unusual behavior

These symptoms alone do not indicate mental illness, but several symptoms coupled with problems working or relating to others may indicate that a conversation with a mental health professional might be beneficial.

How to Help Someone With Mental Illness

Simply starting the conversation with a loved one may be one of the hardest parts of trying to help someone you suspect of having mental health issues. The first step is to express your concern using “I” statements and let the loved one know you are there for them. Then, just listen. Most likely, this will be the first of many conversations. You must remember the decision to seek help is your friend or loved one’s to make. You may have to continue to listen and be prepared to offer support or information when an opportunity presents itself.

While you have this ongoing conversation, you should continue educating yourself about mental illness. The more you understand, the better prepared you will be when your friend or loved one decides they are ready to seek help.

Try to think about any reasons why the friend won’t seek help. Research local resources and therapists to have the information handy if the friend says they can’t find the help they need. If there are other concerns, like transportation or childcare, be willing to discuss how those barriers could be handled.

Finally, continue to take care of yourself, both physically and emotionally. You must recognize your own limits and seek help if you need it. You may even need to step back if you feel you are no longer the best person to be talking to your friend about their mental illness.

Why Someone May Not Want Help

There can be any number of reasons why someone may not want to seek help for mental illness. They may not think they have a problem or feel they can handle their issues on their own. Sometimes people may find it hard to share how they are feeling, especially if they feel they will be stigmatized. Others may think that therapy is a waste of time or won’t help them.

If your friend or loved one rejects your offer to help, you shouldn’t give up. You can continue to check in with them respectfully and gently. Hopefully, over time, the friend will begin to feel more comfortable engaging on the topic of their mental health.

The path to recovery from mental health problems is rarely direct. For those trying to help someone, you should be prepared for improvements and setbacks. Even if you feel like your efforts are not making a difference, showing that you care can still be helpful in the long run. Be realistic in terms of your expectations for your friend’s journey, as recovery can be a long road.

A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix offers a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are embraced throughout their recovery process.

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