It’s very common for people to experience denial following a physical or mental health diagnosis. When it comes to mental illness, the lack of awareness or denial is known as anosognosia. This symptom is common in certain mental health disorders and can make it difficult for people to recognize their conditions and accept treatment. If you currently have a loved one in this position, here are seven tips on how to help someone in denial of mental illness understand their condition and accept the care they need.
Whenever we go through any physical or mental changes, we adjust to accommodate them. For instance, when we get sunburned, we adjust the mental image of our physical appearance, expecting to look different in the mirror. This process is much more complex than it seems.
It occurs in the frontal lobe of the brain, where new information is organized and revised as a new narrative of who we are to update our self-image. Unfortunately, this area of the brain is often damaged in people who have disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and even dementia. As a result, their brains may struggle to update any new information about themselves, including a mental health diagnosis.
Without this very important update, the person may stick to the self-image they had before their illness. These perceptions may feel accurate enough that the person may believe their loved ones are mistaken or lying to them.
If family, friends, and spouses insist they’re right, the person may feel angry, frustrated, and defensive. As you can imagine, mental health denial can make it difficult for someone to receive the mental health treatment they need.
In addition to possibly missing out on treatment and worsening symptoms, people with anosognosia are also at an increased risk of homelessness and arrest. Learning to understand why people deny their mental health problems and how it can impact them, in the long run, can improve their odds of stability.
With that said, below are 7 tips on how to help someone in denial of mental illness realize their condition, accept treatment, and work towards a happier life.
While you may know that you’re up for helping your loved one with anything they might need, they might also need reassurance. Mental illness denial can be stressful both to the individual and the people they’re closest to. The tension caused by their denial or lack of insight regarding their condition can be stressful to others, and that stress just bounces off both parties, creating tension.
Just remember: if the person is unaware of their condition, then they’re going to struggle to understand the source of your stress. Remember to practice patience and simply remind the person, as often as you need to, that you’re there for them.
Whether they’re aware of them or not, the individual’s symptoms will still be present, and they might not even understand why they feel certain things. In this case, it can be extremely comforting to have someone to vent to, which is where you come in.
In moments when your loved one feels confused and overwhelmed by the symptoms of their disorder, invite them to talk to you and ask you questions. Lend your ears and encourage them to let everything out.
Being a positive outlet for someone else mitigates any isolation or withdrawal that’s common among people with mental health disorders. In this way, you’ll be aware of how they’re feeling more often than not and therefore prepared to help them cope with their symptoms in any way you can.
As hard as you might try, you will not be able to “cure” your loved one of their mental illness. Not only are most mental health disorders (if not all) chronic, it’s also unfair to yourself to put that kind of expectation on your shoulders. Rather than expect yourself to heal this person of their condition, be determined to find ways to help them manage their symptoms.
If you want to help them daily, find things that you can do with them to cope with their symptoms. For instance, you can try meditating together or go exercise together. Allow yourself to help in areas where you can, and don’t be hard on yourself if they don’t respond to your methods.
In frustration and love for this person, you might hit a point where you’re giving them ultimatums or trying to force them into a mental health program. This will likely only push them further away from getting help. At the end of the day, you can’t force anyone to do something they don’t want to do, so we recommend that you help wherever and however you can.
This might mean answering any questions they have honestly and gently pointing out certain symptoms they display of their condition without realizing it. Be as gentle and patient as possible when helping them come to terms with their disorder.
As we mentioned, you can’t push someone to do something they don’t want to do, and a great way to find out what they want and how to help them achieve their goals is to simply ask them. If they’re open to it, you can even ask them how they feel about doing something you want them to do.
For instance, refusing to take medication is a common theme among people with anosognosia, so a great way to introduce the idea of taking medication to the person would be to ask them, “How do you feel when you’re taking that medication? Do you feel better? Would you be open to continuing this treatment?”
Coping with side effects like nausea, vomiting, and weight gain can be difficult, and it’s understandable if someone doesn’t want to take medication that makes them feel worse. This is especially true of someone who doesn’t entirely believe they have a disorder, to begin with, so always validate their feelings and keep them in the loop.
Find things that you can do with the person to help them manage their symptoms. This can include anything from bike riding to mediating to practicing yoga to playing a board game. Set aside time with them regularly to do these things as a way of being there for them and adding stability to their routine.
We can’t help others if we don’t help ourselves. It’s hard to fill someone else’s cup when yours is running on empty. Patience and compassion are also difficult to practice when you’re emotionally and physically exhausted, so be sure to practice self-care and find ways to recharge.
This can mean something as simple as implementing a relaxing nighttime routine or seeking therapy with a professional. The more you support yourself, the more supportive you can be to the individual. If you’re looking into professional support for yourself, our mental health program in Boca Raton offers family therapy that can help.
If you suspect that a loved one is showing signs of mental illness or may be suffering from a disorder unknowingly, our PHP mental health program can help. Not only do we help in the diagnosis process, but we also create individualized treatment plans for patients to ensure they receive the best care possible.
From a comfortable facility to numerous amenities to individual care with some of the best specialists in the mental health field, our clients will have everything they need to live happier lives and manage their disorders. If you need support, we’re here to help.