What to Do if a Loved One Refuses Mental Health Treatment

Your obvious inclination as someone who loves a person with a mental health issue is to help that person get better, and the obvious way to do that is to seek treatment.

Unfortunately, many people with mental health issues and disorders do not seek treatment for a variety of reasons. For some, it is fear of what that treatment will entail. For others, it is shame about admitting they have a problem.

There are even those, like some schizophrenics, for whom denial of their mental illness may be a symptom of that mental illness. Whatever the reason, when a person you love refuses mental health treatment, it can have damaging effects on not just that loved one but on you and your relationship with that loved one as well.

The two prime considerations when confronting a loved one’s refusal to seek help for a mental health problem are your loved one’s well-being and your own. The latter cannot be ignored in favor of the former, if you are to resolve the problem.

Helping Your Loved One

A loved one refusing mental health treatment does not mean all hope of helping that person is lost. There are ways you can try to change that person’s mind, such as by helping him or her to see him or herself as you are seeing him or her now.

When a loved one sees him or herself through the eyes of someone who knows and loves him or her well, it can serve as a wake-up call. If a loved one you have always known to behave a certain way is now acting a completely different way, you are doing that loved one a disservice by not pointing that out to him or her.

Remember when broaching this subject to use a calm and nonjudgmental tone of voice and manner. Let that person feel safe and supported as you share this observation. Reassure the person you love and care for that you are there to help see him or her through this, whatever it is.

Related Article: How to Find Mental Health Help for a Friend or Family Member

If you come prepared with authoritative information on what the person is going through and what can be done about it, including whom to contact, it can make the conversation easier. Sometimes, a bit of sound information can help allay a mountain of fears.

In the event that none of the previously mentioned methods work, stronger measures may be necessary, such as the following:

  • Offer to accompany him or her. Some people just do not want to go through something frightening alone. Certainly, you cannot go through a person’s treatment for him or her, but you can escort him or her there and home and be a confidant throughout.
  • Offer a reward. Offering a reward works best with children, seniors and relatives, and some treatment advocacy programs even award gifts, vouchers, lottery tickets and cash to patients who take their medications.
  • Offer the reverse of a reward. While “threats” are never the most desirable of options in any given scenario, when a loved one’s refusal to accept mental health treatment is having a dire impact on your life, it may worth considering. It is perfectly reasonable to offer your help as long as your loved one is willing to accept it, but to rescind it if your loved one refuses your help, or any help, for their problem. Let your loved one know your boundaries and your limits, and then honor them vigilantly if they are crossed.
  • Suggest outpatient treatment. If a loved one refuses inpatient treatment, see what outpatient options may be available.

You may find other ways you can specifically help your loved one with his or her challenges by speaking with your loved one’s case manager.

Due to privacy laws, you will have to seek your loved one’s authorization to speak with the manager, but people are often quite amenable to a loved one conferring with a case manager on their behalf. One style of case management you could help your loved one pursue is called “assertive case management,” in which case managers help clients stay on track by seeking them out at home when they miss treatments.

If your loved one believes him or herself mentally stable now but admits that he or she is worried about future episodes, you could suggest he or she write an advance directive. An advance directive empowers individuals to decide what actions should occur when they start exhibiting certain mental health-related symptoms.

If a loved one is in even greater need of personal assistance in making sound treatment decisions, you or that person could seek to have you court-appointed as your loved one’s conservator. A conservatorship allows you to make treatment decisions for your loved one. In order for that to happen, however, your loved one must be determined by the court to be mentally incompetent.

A last resort to be considered carefully and only in the direst of circumstances is to have your loved one committed. The gauge for this is simple: if you have reason to believe your loved is imminently going to hurt him or herself or another person, it is your responsibility to report it.

Anything short of that is a decision you must make very carefully, as it could have consequences that directly impact your life. For example, if that person is found not to have a mental illness and is released from committal, he or she could try to take civil action against you.

Helping Yourself

As much as you want to help the people you love, your first and foremost responsibility in life is to take care of yourself in a manner that preserves your ability to continue to be of help to others in the future. Indeed, there are often ways you can both protect and care for yourself and help others.

However, sometimes another person’s refusal to accept help prevents that from being possible. This is where your boundaries and limits come into play. Never put your own mental health or physical safety at risk for another person.

Related Article: Common Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

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