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Wife supporting husband with alzheimer

How to Encourage a Loved One to Seek Therapy

Watching a loved one suffer with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other mental illnesses is a unique kind of misery. Often, people who need help the most are the least willing to seek it. They may be concerned about judgement, about finances, or convinced that the problem is a “bad life,” not mental illness. Indeed, this latter insistence—that life is terrible and nothing will help—is a hallmark of psychological problems.

You cannot force someone to get help if he or she is not ready, but you can provide a supportive environment and a firm nudge toward treatment.

Why People Refuse Help

Understanding the motivations for your loved one’s refusal to seek help is key to moving him or her out of that place. Some of the most common reasons people refuse to seek help include:

  • Impaired judgement. Addiction and mental illness lie to people, instructing them that the problem is a bad life or impossible stress, not flawed thoughts and unhealthy patterns.
  • Embarrassment and shame. Mental health stigma is very real. Some people continue to treat the mentally ill as if their disease is a choice. A few even insist that medication is a sign of weakness, or that it’s possible to pray away mental illness.
  • Concerns about cost. Many people worry that mental health care will be expensive.
  • Fear that it won’t work. Sometimes trying something and experiencing failure feels worse than doing nothing at all. Some people with mental illness feel so hopeless that they would rather do nothing.
  • Concerns about privacy, or that other people will find out about therapy.
  • Mistaken beliefs about mental illness, such as that it’s a person’s fault, or that mental illness can be cured without treatment.
  • Emotional paralysis. Some people are so overwhelmed that they simply don’t know where or how to begin the search for help.
  • Stress and exhaustion. People who are already overwhelmed are often reticent to give up even more time to go to therapy, particularly if they are unconvinced that counselling will be effective.

Talking About Mental Illness

When you broach the subject of mental health with your loved one, the key is to come from a place of compassion and respect—not judgement and control. Try the following:

  • Talk about what you’ve noticed in your loved one, such as increased sadness. Do not talk about how his or her health affects you! Your loved one should feel that you are concerned about him or her, not selfishly advocating for your own needs.
  • Don’t be pushy or judgemental.
  • Don’t blame your loved one for the symptoms.
  • Research the symptoms first. Your loved one might not know much about mental illness, so being armed with information can prepare you for the discussion.

Offering Practical Support

Ultimately, you cannot and should not try to force another person into therapy. Doing so only robs the person of his or her agency, and that can actually undermine mental health. What you can do is make it easier to pursue therapy by:

  • Offering to help with financial support, if you are close to the person and in a position to offer such support.
  • Offering to drive your loved one to and from therapy appointments.
  • Offering to help your loved one get out of the house on a weekly basis.
  • Asking what else you can do to help; this may present you with options for helping that you never even realised existed.