My most popular blog post to date is “8 Reasons Why People Don’t Get Treatment for Mental Illness.” In it, I described several common obstacles and barriers which often keep people from seeking or obtaining treatment for mental illness.
This post clearly struck a chord with a lot of people, including those who have had negative experiences with treatment and family members trying to persuade their loved ones to seek help. You can read the original post here.
I thought it might be interesting to go back through this same list and outline some of the common thoughts which underlie each of the reasons why people don’t get treatment. These thoughts can range from totally factual and real concerns to unrealistic or even irrational beliefs.
After each group of thoughts, I’ll suggest alternative ways to think about the issue, which may help you be better equipped to work through these barriers to seeking treatment.
1) Fear and shame – common thoughts:
“I’m afraid to ask for help.”
“I’m embarrassed and ashamed to talk about my problems.”
“I’m scared of getting labeled as ‘crazy.’”
“I don’t want to know if I’m sick or that something bad is happening to me.”
Instead, consider this: It’s completely ok to have these feelings. But know that 1 in 4 adults has a mental illness; you are definitely not alone. While the negative stigma surrounding mental illness is still strong and undeniable, more and more people are feeling comfortable about being open and stepping forward to ask for help.
2) Lack of insight – common thoughts:
“Nothing is wrong with me.”
“My friends and family are worrying about me for no reason; I’m fine.”
Instead, consider this: Maybe there is nothing wrong, but if people who truly care about you are concerned, humor them and go for a check-up. If they’re wrong, make them buy you dinner. If, however, a professional also expresses concern about your mental health, at least listen and be open-minded about their recommendations.
3) Limited awareness – common thoughts:
“Things really aren’t that bad.”
“Everyone has issues.”
Instead, consider this: Sometimes you may recognize you are struggling but try to minimize or deny your difficulties hoping they aren’t that serous or they will go away. But there are times when you do need professional help for significant mental health concerns. Since you aren’t trained to formally diagnose yourself, you need a professional opinion to gauge the nature of your problems and to determine which effective treatment options are available.
4) Feelings of inadequacy – common thoughts:
“I hate to admit my flaws and shortcomings.”
“Asking for help means I’m inadequate or a loser.”
“I should be able to cope better with things.”
“I blame myself for my problems.”
Instead, consider this: Would you consider yourself inadequate or a loser if you had cancer or diabetes? Asking for and receiving professional help for an illness does not mean you are an inferior person or that you are to blame for your current challenges.
5) Distrust – common thoughts:
“It’s hard to trust someone with my deepest secrets.”
“I’m afraid my personal information won’t be kept confidential.”
“I don’t want anyone to know I’m in treatment.”
Instead, consider this: Health care providers are trained and required to respect and honor the privacy and confidentiality of personal information you disclose in treatment. Other than some rare and extreme situations involving threats of harm to yourself or others or certain court-related circumstances, the information you provide is very secure and cannot be released to anyone else without your permission.
6) Hopelessness – common thoughts:
“Nothing will help me.”
“I’ve tried treatment before and it didn’t help.”
“I messed up before so I might as well give up.”
“My last episode of treatment was horrible and made me worse.”
“I saw a therapist and they were incompetent. I’ll never go back.”
Instead, consider this: There are many medications and psychotherapy-based treatments for mental illnesses with solid research evidence for their effectiveness. Also, just because a previous provider or treatment was not effective or even stressful, trying a different approach or a new provider could be very helpful.
7) Unavailabillity – common thoughts:
“There are no therapists or treatment programs near me.”
“I don’t know how to find a therapist or treatment program.”
Instead, consider this: Lack of availability of appropriate mental health treatment or a lack of understanding about how to locate a competent professional can be real problems. If so, reach out to your family medical providers and local mental health organizations for information on how to find care and for suggestions of recommended professionals.
8) Practical barriers – common thoughts:
“I don’t have transportation to get to treatment or child care during my appointments.”
“I can’t afford to pay for treatment.”
“I’m too busy; I don’t have time for treatment.”
Instead, consider this: These practical obstacles are real and often difficult to overcome. Start by talking with friends and care providers about options to reduce or remove some of these roadblocks. Ask directly for assistance with transportation or child care. Explore public assistance programs or lower-cost treatment services to reduce the financial burden associated with treatment. Make time to get help; it’s just as important as anything else on your schedule.
I hope these suggestions for managing these common barriers to treatment will be helpful as you or a loved one consider getting help for a mental health concern. Just remember that treatment is available, it is effective and you don’t have to suffer in silence. But you do have to take the first step and ask for help.
Here’s a question: What have you found helpful in removing one of the barriers to seeking help for mental illness? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Finally, if you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend. Thanks!