20 thoughts on “Why Family Members May Refuse Help For Depression

  • March 18, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Other possibilities:

    1. The depressed person feels drained and doesn’t believe they have the energy for therapy or trying to break out of the depression.

    2. The depressed person has a reality-based reason for being depressed and doesn’t see how therapy/drugs could change things.

  • March 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    I know I put it off for a long time because I was afraid my worst fears would be confirmed: that my problems and failures (real and perceived) would turn out to be because I really was a bad, incompetent, or faulty human being. I think I welcomed the thought that I might be suffering from a temporary and treatable mental illness… but was afraid that this would turn out not to be the case. I had a lot of inappropriate guilt that I was “treating” with the mental trick of denial, and I was terrified that the denial would be turned away and I would be “unmasked” as a fraud.

    I don’t think I really realized that the purpose of therapy is to make you feel better, not analyze you or make an accounting of your actions. I think if a loved one had explained this about therapy, I might have sought treatment sooner. FWIW.

  • March 19, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    My mother had rhumatoid arthritis for 40 years. She lived with it and lived her life until two of life’s major stressors hit her one after the other – the sudden and unexpected death of my father, her husband of over 50 years; and major back surgery a month later. Only then did her body betray her. She had a flare up that never subsided.

    For 2 1/2 years before her death, she lived in constant pain. She lived a restricted life that she had never experienced before. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t brush her hair or teeth, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do the basics of life by herself. Prior to this flair up, she was walking, gardening, swimming, driving and dancing. You can imagine the shock that this new “life” was to her, (and to everyone else!)

    She experienced anxiety and depression. But, she would not admit it, though it was patently clear to *everyone* else. And no one could blame her at all; good grief! If anyone had a right to feel these emotions, it was she. But, she denied them, right up until the last days prior to her death.

    Consequently, my mom suffered far more than she had to suffer. I cannot imagine the anguish she went through as she sat in her wheelchair, unable to do anything without assistance – this strong woman who was now impotent.

    We all, 7 children and 4 of her siblings, tried to get her help. It was to no avail. And that’s the shame.

    My mom didn’t deserve to die in fear and in shame due to a stigma. And I know that’s why she denied her feelings of depression and anxiety. A woman of her generation – the “greatest generation” – who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, was “supposed” to get through it all by putting one foot in front of the other. That’s what she had done all of her life. That’s why her arthritis didn’t have her in a wheelchair for over 40 years; she just wouldn’t let it. Until two of life’s stressors became too much for her to bear.

    And she wasn’t able to ask for help. She did not know how to do it. She had never done it in her 76 years on earth. How horrible to be so alone, even while surrounded by your entire family in loving care.


  • March 20, 2010 at 10:40 pm

    Good article and I’d like to add taht one of the more frustrating reasons I’ve discovered that my clients sometimes won’t let go of their pain is their fear of change. This includes the fear that things may be different, that they may be treated differently and people won’t be as nice or solicitous or they may have to take more responsibility for their lives.

  • March 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

    1)The depressed person doesn’t want to feel like a burden in their family.
    2) They don’t trust psychology and/or psychiatry
    3) They don’t realize they are depressed and think they don’t need help. I think this is the most common.

  • April 4, 2010 at 2:32 pm

    Other possibilities:

    1. The person has previously attempted to get mental health care only to be subjected to endless changes in medication, what I like to call the “anti-depressant of the month club.” Insurance restrictions and poverty often force patients to go to a clinic, not a specific provider, and be constantly given different medications based on the whim of whoever is covering the clinic that day.

    2. The patient may rationally conclude the the side-effects of their prescription are worse than the underlying illness.

    3. The patient may have had bad experiences with the mental health system, particularly if they are gay, lesbian, or transgendered.

    4. The patient may correctly doubt that being depressed about life events is a mental illness. During the 2008-2009 stock market crash, several psychiatrists wrote that persons who were upset about losing their life savings are mentally ill and should be treated for “depression and anxiety.”

    • June 6, 2015 at 9:58 am

      I came here, because I imagine my family and friends might be searching for help on how to get a depressed person to get help. That person is me. I have been battling this for about 30 years. I am in my 40s now. I felt the need to reply, and can identify with many of the prior posts.

      I realize that I have severe depression, but I feel like there are no options left for me. I was highly suicidal about 25 years ago, but pulled myself out of it. Since then, I have had moments of being better, but many other of being terrible. My family has always been supportive, but they have reached a level of frustration with me that they are now doing the “guilt” thing about not spending time with them. The few friends I have that know about my depression seem to be supportive, but the relationships have changed once they know, so there is avoidance on both sides.

      I have seen multiple therapists, often having to change due to insurance coverage changes. I have also been on a variety of different meds, and can honestly say they ALL made me feel worse. Horrible side effects and the way they made me feel was no better than depression. I should also add that I have a good job and have worked there over 20 years, but for the first time, I feel very unhappy and unfocused there. I want to leave, but they could beat me the punch.

      I have had bad experience with therapists and meds, and quite frankly, I don’t want to spend the money (even if small) to pursue what I see as a dead end. I still think about suicide every single day, but I know I don’t have the guts or courage to actually do it.

      I feel stuck, and all my friends and family have written me off at this point. There is nobody in my life. I can “turn it on” at work, as my escape, but I feel like the end is in sight there, either by my hand or their hand.

      I’m at a point where I cannot see any options, and I’m just here. Any advice?

  • April 7, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    I have gone for help but I have the problem of NO family support. In fact I get derision, blame and this is despite the fact I do not bother anyone in my family. Nobody understands it and I don’t know how that can possibly happen. Although it follows patterns of neglect that have been life long familially. My brother compared depression to “crying wolf” this past weekend. I asked him what he meant exactly. He said people all use depression as an excuse not to do things they should be in their lives and it’s not an “illness”. He thinks an “attitude change” will take care of it. I have to say having suicidal ideation and having my brother say, “go ahead” when I finally shared that this past weekend, in desperate mental shape, really severely affected me in a terrible way. It stays with me. My mind never ever stops. The torture goes round and round. My psychologist isn’t much help. She doesn’t do any of the evidence based treatments. CBT for examples, in her words, “is boring” for her to do. Great. I tried and tried to find someone appropriate before going to her and have been for quite awhile and I am so exhausted I can’t even fathom “starting fresh” and I have spent a lot of money with her. I am not really getting anything for it. It ends up making me feel unhelpable and that there is absolutely no hope for me whatsoever. She admits she doesn’t “communicate hope” like most other psychologists do. It’s true – I think NOTHING she does is like what most psychologists do. I had a scary experience prior to seeing her with a psychologist, a very traumatizing experience so it took a lot to even try again. I just ache daily thinking “there is absolutelty NO HOPE at all for me and won’t be, I am a loser, even family judge me and stigmatize trauma and depression”. I wish there was more “social support” available. I live in a city that is actually pretty big in Canada and I am shocked at the lack of availability of support type groups, etc. Why – so many people are depressed? You’d think there would be more offered. If I had the strength I’d start a support group. Maybe I will one day. I am just so depressed and anxious and hopeless. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I exercise, meditate, do yoga and deep breathing but nothing can calm my breathing anymore. Everything has got severely worse in this therapy and now I feel it’s too late.

  • July 12, 2010 at 9:35 am

    The depressed person in reaching out sometimes pulls a very close person under with him or her. Treatment may require several medication trials, all which the depressed person must agree to, whether or not he or she feels hopeless. The depressed person cannot hang onto another person and expect that person to be their savior. It’s not fair.

  • July 12, 2010 at 9:39 am

    To Christine: The comment I made was not in answer to your post. I just read some of it, and I’m sorry my post may have appeared that way. My brother is not doing the right thing regarding his treatment, and has been laying his misery on me for years, while doing little to help himself. I have a depression problem myself and feel I cannot talk to him as much as he expects me to, anymore.

  • October 20, 2010 at 10:03 am

    I am that person in the family (wife, stepmom, sister, friend, colleague) who is depressed and won’t get help. I know that I’m depressed. I know I need help. Let me explain…

    I have struggled with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) on and off for most of my later adolescent years and adult life (also ADHD and adult ADHD). Not bi-polar (no mania) but just random bouts of MDD here and there. The depression used to only last a couple weeks to a month at a time and be rare, usually going to see my therapist (she is AMAZING by the way, no negative experiences here) for a few weeks would help me change my irrational thoughts and I’d be fine for months to years at a time before another depression hit. I learned to recognize the signs of a depressive episode coming and would try to start treatment ASAP.

    I should also mention that I am training to become a psychologist (Ph.D. in Clinical Psych, focus on PTSD treatment). I know exactly what is going on in my brain right now. I know exactly what I need to do to “fix” it. I understand the mechanisms behind depression. I’m on an antidepressant (citalopram). I love and am a huge proponent of therapy.

    So, why am I depressed? Why does it expend all of my energy just to get in the shower (if I can motivate myself to do that even)?
    My depression doesn’t look like grief or sadness or suicidality. It’s a complete numbness and lack of motivation.

    This current “episode” has now lasted almost a year. I literally have lost every ounce of motivation (prior to this I have always been an incredibly intrinsically motivated person and very self-sufficient; my advisor would say “a go-getter”). I had to drop out of two classes over the summer because I just did not do the work. Prior to this year I had a 4.0 GPA for all major-related coursework, I have been published twice (once as an undergrad as first author in a respected journal), I have worked my way up from community college to grad school with no support from my parents (aka also having a full-time job), and found the time to marry an incredibe man with two awesome kids who love me dearly.

    Now, I sit on the couch with my laptop gambling online all day (oh yeah, did I forget to mention I developed a gambling problem over the summer because it was the only thing that made me feel anything other than numb? That makes me feel sooo much better about my self, let me tell you…) with MSNBC on tv in the background. My husband has a “live and let live” approach to life and so it took him 6 months to finally even say something to me about how concerned he was (this was around the time my personal hygiene started to be neglected…). He begged me to get help. I went to the counselor (a new one, my previous therapist is back home in TX) to appease him. I did the intake interview. I cried as I admitted how stupid I felt because I should KNOW better. The intake counselor was wonderful, very empathetic, made me feel brave, etc. etc. but then I was assigned to a different counselor who I believe is still under supervision (aka a peer). I didn’t go back.

    I feel worthless. Everyday that I procrastinate another task (whether it be showering or working on my research study), I feel even more worthless for procrastinating. It is a vicious cycle. I hate it and I hate myself for being so stupid and stubborn but it is as if I am paralyzed. I really feel paralyzed. Just typing this is exhausting and I’m tempted to just erase it all and forget I even came here but I think it might benefit some one so I’ll post it even though I don’t feel like finishing.
    Just know, depression is more than an “attitude” (I’m a proponent of “life is what you make it” yet here I am. a f-ing hypocrite). Your loved one, if depressed, probably feels helpless or paralyzed or numb or scared or whatever. I just wanted you to know how I feel so you know it can happen to anyone and it isn’t as easy as “get help or else.”

    I feel so guilty about all of it. I hate myself for this.

    • June 16, 2014 at 10:29 pm

      Sorry for your pain & struggle. Your story is mine too. Did you find any help??? My hubby & I eloped and moved away from everyone so have had no support. Anything you can share that could save our marriage is SO appreciated. Hugs.

  • December 6, 2010 at 10:00 am

    I’m in a terrible situation. My fiance’s mother is severely depressed. She had one serious suicide attempt that landed her in a psychiatric hospital, but after a week they let her go, yet to me she still appears suicidal. We brought her to live with us on condition that she will go to out patient therapy. Now she is refusing to go, but we are afraid to let her stay alone in our house. I can’t live like this. Everyday I watch her destroying her son, who I love more than anything in the world. Does anyone have any advice? I don’t know what to do anymore, but I cannot sit back and let her destroy him.

  • February 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I’ve suffered from clinical depression twice, been on medication and am now off, so I am aware of the signs and how it affects your moods.

    My cousin who has just lost her Dad, has been depressed for years and won’t admit she has a problem. Depression runs in her family, her Mom was bi-polar and her sister has been off work with severe depression for a long time. I’ve tried being supportive and encouraging her to seek help but its not working. As far as she’s concerned if she can get out of bed and go to work, then shes fine.The messages I get saying that ” I have nothing to look forward to ” surely are an indication that she isn’t. I’m so worried. She adamently refuses to see her doctor and take any form of medication. I’m not in the best health myself and have had to step back. Any advice gratefully received. Thank you

  • April 29, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    My mother in law has been in a severe depression for months. She is 81, is developing cognitive issues and has had a history of depression-which she has largely ignored. Her odd behavior, becoming reclusive and using very poor judgment has lead us to become more concerned. Instead of allowing us to help her she has become much more fearful and refused to obtain medical care. She has stopped speaking with me and her only son-my husband. She will only speak with one grandson, and he reports she is not doing well-seems very fragile and has told him she thinks she’s having a nervous breakdown. We have not seen her in 2 months. Now what?!

  • December 2, 2011 at 11:47 am

    on disability for depression along with some other health problems. been to so many different doctors and counciling but found that if the family does not particapate the person does not ever get well.going to nami meetings help me realize how bad off it is. m ade the changes to try and help my depressions but it cost me the love from mom sister brother and all relatives.isolated on top of depressin is recipe for suiside.

  • December 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Reading this article and the responses has given me a little comfort at a difficult time. My fiancee of several months sold her condo and moved into my house four months ago. I knew she had some mood problems but did not understand the depth or severity of her depression until shortly after she moved in. She was employed and had always been self-sufficient.

    Things went downhill as soon as she moved in. She lost her job, and has done little since moving in except stay in her bed and smoke cigarettes. Her self-image is very negative. She told me she was afraid to go out shopping, so I have done all of that and all of the cooking and what cleaning I can manage to do. She complains bitterly about the condition of the house but won’t do any housework at all. Her belongings are all still in moving boxes. I asked her repeatedly to start unpacking, one box at a time, but she always has excuses for not doing it. We have had no intimacy whatsoever.

    She has been doing things that look like preparations for death, such as putting photo albums and other items in a box with “For…” and her sister’s name written on it. She had two dogs which were the light of her life, but surrendered them to a “no-kill” animal shelter in early November.

    One week before Thanksgiving I became angry with her because there are still moving boxes full of stuff on and under the dining room table, and the living room has boxes stacked to the ceiling. I had to cancel my plans to have a few guests over. My mom kindly picked up the ball and served a nice meal at her home, which I attended. My fiancee stayed home and didn’t even call her father who is 90 and near the end of his life in a nursing home. (I’m sure the place served a decent Thanksgiving dinner to the patients and their guests.)

    I suddenly realized that I had been enabling her problem by trying to do and fix everything for her, and gave her an ultimatum – Seek help for depression, or move out by the end of the year. Without hesitation she said she would leave, because of course nobody could possibly help her. She tried counseling briefly once and didn’t feel any better, and has a major misconception that psychiatrists give patients drugs to “dope them up” and silence them. She has no knowledge of neurotransmitters, or how drugs like SSRIs or MAO inhibitors work (I have a degree in psych and have studied these things, as well as depression.)

    So, there is no wedding planned and December 15 will be her move-out date. I tried many times to get her to seek help, but she’s done nothing but refuse, argue, and make excuses. For now, she has chosen to live with her depression but I fear that she really doesn’t understand that something is terribly wrong with her. She is convinced that I hate her, but my actions including evicting her have always been motivated by love.

    I feel foolish for not recognizing her obvious problem earlier, and for allowing my enabling behavior to continue as long as I did. I hope she gets help some day and realizes how badly she misunderstood my motives and feelings. If that never happens, so be it. Her problems are not my fault.

  • December 8, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    This is a follow-up to my previous comment.

    Sometimes I hate being right. My fiancee spent several days with an elderly friend who is in poor health and has dealt with depression and other illnesses for a very long time. She came home yesterday, and I walked in to see her writing out a list of her friends and family members. I went out for a short time, and when I returned I found her in her room in bed. She seemed to be OK, but there was a handwritten note sitting on the box of items that bears her sister’s name.

    I could read the first few lines without bending over: “I’m sorry that it had to end this way…” and went on to detail how to distribute her belongings. There was no specific plan of action, but it was obviously a suicide note.

    I pretended that I hadn’t read it, and asked her what the note was about. She jumped out of bed, said “It’s personal!” and turned it over.

    I told her I was going out to get something to eat, stepped outside and called 911 to report her as suicidal. The operator stayed on the phone with me for the 20 minutes it took for the police to show up, first one officer than another accompanied by a psychiatric nurse.

    The team looked over the note, listened to my explanation of the situation, and asked many questions. They were very courteous and professional. My friend tried to lie and dodge her way out of the situation. To my relief they invoked their power under Section 5150 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code to take her to a county-run psychiatric hospital involuntarily for 72 hours of observation.

    I did what I had to do. I just hope that someone at the hospital manages to persuade my friend to get into treatment and stick with it.

    She may be moved out of my house as early as Sunday, December 11.

  • January 2, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    My 24-year-old son had a psychotic break one year ago, and has been hospitalized for depression four times during 2011. He tried medications but nothing seemed to help. I asked him to meet with a doctor and discuss ECT, which he did. After several ECT treatments, he did show some slight improvement. He was also diagnosed with a nonverbal learning disability. I’ve done a lot of legwork to help him find doctors, treatments, etc., and am now his legal guardian.

    The part that I’m struggling with now is that even though he gets monthly maintenance ECT treatments to maintain the gains he’s made, he still seems very depressed to me. Uncommunicative, refuses to go out, won’t fix himself meals, or do much of anything, except watch TV and eat junk food.

    I love my son, yet feel exhausted trying to help him. For now, I am stepping back to let him experience the consequences of his choices, or lack of them. Otherwise, I feel like I may become severely depressed myself.

  • January 22, 2012 at 9:27 am

    I agree with Sarah G. Those are also good reasons. I think there are many reasons why people don’t get help. What about when the person is not functioning in everyday life and still won’t take the steps to start getting help. How can not functioning in daily life be perceived as anything else in that person’s mind? All help is being offered to this person with much support and still this family member is not taking the steps to help himself. Hiding from the world and not functioning in daily life is not a choice. How do we get this young adult to help us help him?


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