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How to Help Someone Who Needs Mental Health Support but Refuses It

Mental health is as important as physical health, yet there's often a stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. If you find yourself in a situation where someone you care about is struggling — but refusing to get the support they need — it can be incredibly challenging. As a friend or family member, you might feel helpless and unsure of what to do. Here are some ways to offer support and guidance, while allowing your loved one to make the decision to get the help they need on their own.

Key takeaways:

Why people might refuse to get help

Before we dive into what you can do to help, it’s crucial to first try and understand the other person’s perspective.

The reasons someone may not want help for their mental health can vary from person to person, but here are a few that seem to be most common:

  • Stigma and shame. Mental health has been stigmatized for far too long, leading people to feel ashamed or embarrassed about their struggles. Because of this, people might be hesitant or fearful to seek help. They may believe that seeking help is a sign of weakness or think that no one will truly understand how they are feeling.
  • Fear of judgement. The fear of being judged or misunderstood can prevent someone from opening up about their struggles, making it difficult for them to seek help.
  • Denial and minimization. Some individuals may downplay their mental health issues believing they can handle it on their own, or simply denying that they have a problem.
  • Past negative experiences. Previous negative encounters with mental health services or professionals might discourage someone from seeking help again.
  • Lack of awareness. Not everyone is fully aware of their mental health and the resources available. Additionally, they may not know the benefits of seeking help, which can lead to resistance.

How to talk to someone who refuses to get help

When approaching someone who is hesitant about seeking mental health support, it's essential to do so with empathy, compassion, and understanding.

Additionally, one of the most important things to remember is that you cannot force them to do it. They must want to do it on their own, for themselves.

With that in mind, your role is really that of a supporter, guide, and loved one. You are not a mental health professional, and that is okay. However, because you don't have the proper training, you cannot, and should not, put it on yourself to fix them.

Here are some things you can do to help support someone who is refusing to get help for their mental health. These tips are good for all age groups. Whether you are talking to your 13-year-old son or 82-year-old grandmother, these approaches can be helpful to everyone.

Be a supportive listener

One of the most important things you can do is be a supportive listener. Let them know that you are there for them, and that you genuinely care about their well-being. Encourage them to express their feelings and thoughts without any judgment.

Sometimes, just having someone to talk to can provide immense relief.

Avoid trying to fix their problems or give unsolicited advice. Instead, actively listen and validate their emotions. Let them know that what they are going through is valid and that seeking help is a courageous step, not a sign of weakness.

Validate and normalize their feelings

Often, people are resistant to getting mental health support because they are afraid no one will care or understand. To help them feel heard, validate what they are going through. Sometimes saying something as simple as, "Wow, that does sound really difficult," can have the most power.

Ask questions to help your loved one feel heard and put words to their experiences. By asking questions, not only do you gain information, but your loved one may be able to better articulate and understand their emotions, normalizing their experiences in the process.

The more we discuss mental health as a regular aspect of overall well-being, the less stigmatized seeking help will become.

Encourage the use of self-help products

Depending where your loved one is on their mental health journey, suggesting self-help tools might be a great place to start.

Encourage them to explore different mental health apps targeted towards various self-improvement goals — such as meditation, journaling, mood tracking, and self-awareness.

Additionally, there are an endless number of websites, books, and peer forums that can be useful for those just starting their mental health journey. Researching and learning from others often creates a sense of community which can help normalize a person's experiences or feelings. Learning from others who have had similar experiences can inspire them to get help in a way that works for them. More importantly, it lets your loved one not feel so alone.

Highlight the benefits of professional help

Explain the benefits of seeking professional help, just as you would for any physical health issue. Professional mental health providers have the expertise and experience to guide individuals through their struggles effectively.

If your friend or family member is open to the idea of professional help, assist them in finding a suitable mental health provider. Research therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists in their area who specialize in the specific challenges they are facing.

Taking the first step towards seeking professional help can be intimidating. Offer to accompany your loved one to a counseling session or a support group meeting. Knowing that they have someone by their side can provide much-needed reassurance and encouragement.

Consider crisis lines

In some cases, the person may be in immediate distress but still resistant to professional help. In such situations, provide them with crisis helpline numbers they can call or text for immediate support.

Crisis lines can offer anonymous and confidential help when needed urgently. Most crisis prevention lines are available 24/7 for anyone who is experiencing mental health concerns. It does not have to be an actual crisis to use these numbers. Anyone who is in need of help, big or small, can use them.

Know when to seek external support for yourself

Supporting someone who refuses help can be mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. Don't hesitate to seek external support for yourself as well.

Taking care of your mental health is crucial to being a stable and reliable source of support for your loved one, and sometimes that may mean acknowledging your own limitations. You might have the urge to give everything you have to help them, but that is not sustainable in the long run.

Lead by example and put your own mental health first. Reach out to friends, family, or a professional to talk about your feelings and experiences. Use self-help resources and crisis lines if necessary.

Being open about your own mental health struggles, and the steps you are taking to improve them, will normalize your loved ones experience, and model healthy coping skills for them.

Risks of not getting help

When someone refuses to seek help for their mental health challenges, there can be several underlying causes and potential risks. Here are a few to watch out for:

  • Worsening of symptoms. Without appropriate interventions, mental health issues can escalate and negatively impact their daily life.
  • Isolation and withdrawal. Avoiding help may lead to increased social isolation, as they may try to deal with their struggles alone for fear of burdening others or not being deserving of help.
  • Impact on physical health. Mental health issues can take a toll on physical health as well, leading to problems like insomnia, headaches, and other stress-related symptoms.
  • Substance abuse. In some cases, people might turn to substance use as a way of coping with their mental health challenges, leading to a harmful cycle.
  • Suicidal thoughts. Ignoring or denying mental health problems can increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Helping someone who is refusing to seek mental health support requires patience, understanding, and empathy. You can be a crucial part of someone’s journey toward mental well-being. However, ultimately, they must make the decision to seek help themselves. Be there for them, but also take care of yourself throughout the process.

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prefix 8 months ago
This article should include access to care and other costs that go into getting appropriate care. Poor, BIPOC and marginalized individuals often have to go through a number of medical professionals to find that "goodness to fit"
prefix 8 months ago
My past situation that ultimately led to my recent final abandonment and being cut off by my boomer father was a bit different than this, but this kind of help is what he will insist he offered.

He was oh so generous 8 years go by allowing me to come and live a couple months like some kind of walking burden in the condo he shared with his 4th wife. The many rules and curfew I obeyed of course and without complaining. However there was a condition of work/school/therapy, no discussions my way or the highway, which would have been fine IF NOT FOR THE POINTLESS DEADLINE.

Yep. Living from middle school to 24 in absolute terror of the cost of rent and basic survival, knowing I had no choice but to promise myself over to thirty years of debt for a mere chance to compete with all the other desperate job seekers on the hook, or to submit myself to a lifetime of hopping jobs trying to make infinitely more money to pay the ever increasing rent and only ever just staying above water but for more and more effort and time, well let's say I'm not a happy person.

My boomer father put a deadline of a month on me taking out loans I knew were a waste for me, of working some shit job just to pay rent which sadly I loathe the very idea of, or of curing my trauma from an infancy of being left to cry in the crib while mommy got drunk and passed out on the couch, daddy just worked every waking moment so he didn't have to deal with any of it, and then mommy wanted a new man and married a man who openly hated me, resulting in a decade of being a narcissist and his enabler's scapegoat. The other two children, one my sister whom I haven't spoken to for about 4 years, and other the spouses son, could do no wrong.

My parents care more about sex and employment status than they ever cared for me. The denial and defensiveness is so outright revolting I can't stand to see them again let alone confront them, which I'm sure they would self righteously call abuse.

So what am I supposed to do? I can't work, I've been mooching off a friend for housing but otherwise I'd be homeless. I keep getting denied unemployment and I'm almost out of money. I eat a chef Boyardee and a ramen noodles a day. I have literally no idea what I'm going to do but I've been so stressed over this for half my life now since I'm 34, 15 years of continuous employment and nothing to show for it, that I think I've really actually burned out. I've analyzed myself and the people most influential on my life and there's just nothing I or anyone can do. How does a therapist fix an economy ran by a club of boomers who make the rules to favor themselves and are completely insulated from the public? Or low wages? Or extortionate housing and food costs? Or the fact not everyone needs to work in a modern society and this current system just creates endless amounts of ever more desperate workers and in a globalized job market that means an endless amount of competition. It's dystopian.

So what am I supposed to do? It's like I kinda know it's over for me and this all feels like.extra time. I've got a week or two worth of food left in the bank, but that's really the last of it. What am I supposed to do other than just take whatever I want and refuse to be taken prisoner?
harold a maio
prefix 8 months ago

----There are many reasons why someone may refuse mental health help — from stigma and shame to denial and minimization.

From stigma or those stigmatizing? From shame or those shaming? Be cautious with your expressions.

Harold A Maio