Resisting Treatment for a Mental Illness

Consistently, I …
* talk to people with mental illness who resist beginning treatment.
* hear from those who’ve gone through treatment who wish they’d sought help sooner.

I get frustrated with the first group, but then I remind myself that I used to be a long-time, card-carrying member.  My college mentor encouraged me time and time again to just meet with a therapist at my school’s free counseling services center, and I balked and balked and balked.

I wish I hadn’t.

Today, I want to address four of the excuses I hear most often for avoiding treatment along with my best argument against them.

Too much money.
First of all, if you had a life-threatening disease, I can almost guarantee you that you’d find the means to get treatment.  Mental illness are often life-threatening– not always in the sense of imminent death, but they reduce the quality of your life and deserve your reaction to their severity.  There are prescription assistance programs, such as Partnership for Prescription Assistance or Walmart’s $4 prescriptions.  More and more, I am seeing churches starting free or pay-what-you-can counseling sessions with highly-trained lay therapists.  Obsessive-compulsives are able to do self-guided exposure and response prevention therapy from their own homes with helpful and inexpensive books like Stop Obsessing! or Freedom from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Too much fear.
I can absolutely relate to this.  Some fear vocalizing their anxieties; some fear they will do so and be told there is no hope (in which case, it feels less scary to stay silent and hold onto the tiny thread that there may be a rescue coming).  Some fear the treatment itself (I can very much understand this, as ERP, the preferred treatment for OCD, is a particularly challenging therapy that exposes obsessive-compulsives to their greatest fears).

Therapy for OCD was one of the scariest things I have ever had to do in my life.  It was awful– but not as awful as daily life with OCD with no end in sight.  Short of a miracle, your mental illness will probably not just go away on its own.  Now is the time to declare war.

Too much pride.
A blog reader told me the other day that he was disconnected from reality, could hardly talk to his wife, and felt like the loneliest person on the planet– though too proud to see a therapist and admit there is something wrong.

This is so hard for me to understand– even though this used to be me!  To me, it’s the equivalent of breaking your arm and then being too proud to get it set in a cast.  What are you too proud of?  That you are invincible?  No one is, and you are fooling yourself if you think you are.  Ignoring a real problem is nothing to be proud of.  It’s like when you realize you took a wrong turn and are headed the wrong way.  It makes far more sense to turn around than to continue on in the same wrong direction.

Too much doubt.
I have a friend whose life is crumbling right now, yet he refuses to get help because he doesn’t think therapy works.  I want to shake him a little and say, “Look around you– what you are doing right now doesn’t work!”  I know how easy it is to get trapped by indecision and by the feeling that no direction is a good one (that’s why I took one year off from my medication search), but in the end, you’re probably going to have to take some sort of step toward healing.  Even if you take teensy-tiny baby-steps, that’s okay.  Find a trusted friend and work out the best baby-step possible.

I know it is an expensive, scary, humbling, and doubtful enterprise– but please, please keep reaching out for help.

choice

6 thoughts on “Resisting Treatment for a Mental Illness

  1. Yes, Jackie! This is great. You give some of the great excuses that a lot of us have used. I didn’t seek help for a long time because of embarrassment, fear, shame. How I wish I had tried sooner. If we can encourage others to get treatment early, then we’ve done something.

  2. I was in that category due to doubt and pride. You, Jackie Lea, YOU were crucial in my decision to get help. Thank you for all the encouragement you give to those who are struggling and need help.

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