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Why Family Members May Refuse Help For Depression

Several times a month, I notice new comments on a few of my depression posts on the Psych Central general blog. So many people want to know why the depression has happened, what they can do, how they can deal with their family refusing to get help. Some people would probably take the help if someone extended a hand to them. Others get multiple pleas from family members to get counseling, see their doctor, or do anything to make the depression lift. 

Folks, I wish I really knew how to just make people who desperately need help actually do it. I know that only a relatively small amount of people who should be getting some professional help are slogging it out on their own, living on in misery way longer than they need to. As I was reading a recent comment, the question popped in my mind again — why do people refuse help with depression?

Embarrassment of Looking Weak

People don’t want to look weak in front of others in most cases. It can be so embarrassing for someone to ask or accept help for depression, especially if they are pretty self-sufficient. Many people want to get through it on their own and solve the problems all by themselves.

Now honestly, some minor levels of depression can certainly be managed well enough without professional counseling. Sometimes, just a really good support network can help a person get through short bouts of mild depression. However, this isn’t the case for many people, certainly not for anyone with chronic or recurring depression. As time passes with untreated persistent depression, the person gradually forgets what their healthy mind was like. They are more likely to resign to the reality of the depression and not succeed at returning to their previously healthy state of mind.

They Do Not Want To Be Called Crazy

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, but I come across a lot of people in my mental health work who assume I’m going to call them crazy after I first meet with them. I calmly tell them that the word “crazy” isn’t on any of the forms, nor is that a word I’ll be using to describe them or their situation. The label of “depression” still has a strong stigma.

Even if they know things are seriously wrong, they don’t want others to see them as losing control of their mind somehow. They may fear that seeing a professional will officially confirm they are crazy, ruining their reputation and sense of self-respect. Imagine how strong a person’s sense of self-protection becomes when they feel like they are fighting for every scrap of mental strength they can muster. Anything that feels like a threat, whether real or not, might quickly get rejected.

Depression Affects Their Perception and Decision Making

Even a normally level-headed and open-minded person can resist help with depression. As a person who’s walked that walk, I can tell you that depression acts like a fun-house mirror with your mind. Things get so distorted, twisted, and shaded in ways that don’t always make sense. Everything looks more extreme, more stretched out, more bunched up, more impossible to reconcile.

A person with depression may not understand this sort of “alien mind” effect, believing these perceptions to be the work of their normal mind. That’s why depression aggravates me so — this mental distortion acts like a self-perpetuation loop. The more the depression sets in, the more likely the person believes those thoughts are normal and reasonable.

No Easy Answer About Family Members Refusing Help For Depression

Like the subtitle says, there is no easy answer for family members that refuse to get help for their depression. Be open and supportive as you can. Provide options for treatment if it seems they are open to it. Make the consequences of continued depression with no change easy to see (changes in your marriage, changes in children’s behaviors, etc.).

These suggestions will not guarantee your family member will do anything about it. Sadly, some people simply live the life of depression rather than identifying the need to get help and make change. I’m sorry, and I wish there was something more powerful I could do or recommend. However, I do know that support groups like NAMI, professional counseling, and dedicated family members do and can make a difference in many situations. If you feel you can’t do anything else for your family member without it starting to seriously drain you or derail your mental well-being, then you may need to pull back.

Readers, I’d like to hear your responses to this difficult topic.  Hopeful experiences, disappointing experiences, whatever you have to offer.

Creative Commons License photo credit: racheocity

Why Family Members May Refuse Help For Depression

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2010). Why Family Members May Refuse Help For Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Mar 2010
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