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Helping a Loved One Who Resists Mental Health Treatment

Helping a Loved One Who Resists Mental Health Treatment

Stigma, denial, and misconceptions about what treatment options are available can be powerful barriers to accessing life-changing mental health care. Overcoming this resistance is difficult, but not impossible.

If your friend or family member is unwilling or unable to recognize their need for mental health treatment, know that the situation is far from hopeless. Let’s look at what you can do to encourage them to seek professional help and provide support as they work toward a brighter future. 

Educate Yourself

One of the most important first steps in supporting a loved one who needs mental health treatment is to become as educated as possible about the specific condition they are experiencing. The more you understand the symptoms, causes, progression, and treatment, the better equipped you’ll be to have a productive conversation.

Some recommended resources include:

Consider Your Timing

There is no single “best” time to talk to someone who is mentally ill about treatment options. However, here are some general guidelines on times that may be appropriate for initiating this conversation:

  • After an emotional crisis or incident. The period following an emotional outburst, mental health crisis, or incident related to their condition can serve as a wake-up call. When your friend or family member is calmer, but the event is still fresh, you may be able to have a more open discussion about how getting help could prevent similar episodes in the future.
  • During a lucid period. For conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder involving psychotic episodes, aim to have the conversation during a lucid, stable period when they may have more self-awareness about their symptoms and need for treatment.
  • When they bring up their struggles. If your loved one happens to mention feeling overwhelmed, recognizes they are struggling, or expresses their fears about getting help, take advantage of this opportunity. Validate their concerns while emphasizing your support.

Express a Desire to Help, Not Control

Make it clear you’re not trying to attack or control your friend or family member. You simply want to find a way to best support them in getting the help and relief they deserve. 

Suggest mental health treatment as something positive that could provide a fresh perspective for anxiety, depression, or other challenges—not a reinforcement that something is “wrong” with them. You could say something like: “I don’t want to overstep, but I care about you. You’ve seemed really weighed down lately, and I think talking to someone could help lighten that burden.”

Listen Without Judgment

Don’t disregard or downplay what your friend or family member says they’re experiencing, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Ask open-ended questions to allow them to elaborate on what they’re going through: “What has that been like for you?” or “How has this impacted your daily life?” 

Make an effort to understand their perspective through empathetic listening. Reflect their feelings back to them: “It sounds like you’ve been going through a really difficult time.” Don’t disregard or argue against what they’re experiencing.

Highlight the Benefits of Treatment

One of the most effective ways to motivate someone to seek mental health treatment is to paint a picture of how it could positively impact their life by providing tools for better managing their specific symptoms. The key is to focus on the potential relief and improvements, not implying that they are “broken” or need to be “cured.”

Discuss how counseling or therapy sessions provide a supportive, judgment-free outlet to process difficult thoughts and emotions. If their condition may benefit from medication, explain how the right prescription could alleviate some of the distressing thoughts, feelings, or psychosomatic symptoms they’ve described. Share examples of how mental health treatment has allowed others you know to get back to enjoying life, strengthening relationships, and feeling more like themselves. 

Understand When Court-Ordered Treatment May Be an Option

Pursuing court-ordered treatment should always be an absolute last resort, as it can severely damage your relationship and your loved one’s willingness to voluntarily seek future treatment. Typically, the court will only intervene if your loved one: 

  • Presents an imminent risk of serious harm to self or others due to mental illness
  • Is unable to provide for their own basic needs like food, clothing, shelter, or safety
  • Demonstrates a lack of insight or understanding about their mental illness
  • Has a history of refusing or not adhering to treatment recommendations
  • Has a documented mental illness and deteriorating ability to function independently

In Iowa, court-ordered mental health treatment has strict due process requirements. Your loved one would have the opportunity to have legal counsel, contest the order, and provide evidence arguing against involuntary commitment. However, if they were committed by the court, they would be required to follow the treatment plan or face legal penalties.

Suggest a Confidential Screening as a First Step

If your loved one is resistant to treatment, the idea of an anonymous mental health screening or evaluation may be an easier “first step” than committing to a specific program. This can be framed as a no-risk way to get a professional opinion as opposed to a commitment to seek treatment right away.

At Eagle View Behavioral Health, we offer free confidential screenings to assess whether any issues exist and determine the best next steps. Contact us online or call to speak to a member of our care team 24/7. 

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