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How to Help Someone with Mental Illness That Does Not Want Help

how to help a loved one that refuses your help

Alyson Spirals Into a Mental Health Issue

When someone you know and love is spiraling into a mental health issue and needs help – but isn’t ready -what do you do? Consider these real life stories of addicts who don’t want help – from the long-running show, Intervention:

  • Alyson, a three-time White House intern and an award-winning student, met a boy in college who initiated her into drugs. She is addicted to morphine and crack and has returned to live with her parents. Alyson now steals painkillers from her dying father and works at alienating her mother and sister. (Full Episode video: Season 1 Episode 1 45 mins. OR: What is Intervention? Video approx. 3 mins. OR Alyson Follow up approx. 5 mins.)
  • Parents and friends intervene to save Alissa, a compulsive gambler who has lost more than $30,000 on 25-cent slots. Meanwhile her boyfriend juggles three jobs just to make ends meet for them. (Full Episode video: Season 1 Episode 4 45 mins.)
  • At 24, Sara had everything she ever wanted in her sleepy Minnesota town. When it all ended abruptly in divorce, the young woman turned to crystal meth, and her parents believe her only hope is an intervention. (Full Episode video: Season 1 Episode 5 45 mins.)

What do these people have in common? They are good people. And they have serious, dangerous addictions, for which they need others’ help. Their addiction issues are symptoms of much deeper problems – depression and/or mental illness.

What’s Behind Their Actions?

When the pain of depression or mental illness becomes too much to bear, people often cope by finding something powerful to replace the pain. Something that feels really, really good to them. So good that they want it again and again … until it turns into an addiction.

Alyson, the star student and White House intern, shows us that addiction issues transcend intelligence levels and socio-economic status. Addiction is a tricky and powerful.

Even when the good feeling starts to wear off, addicts continue to seek that good feeling through the same behavior. It may even start to feel bad to them. But they continue to seek it anyway. The pull is so strong, and the pain continues to drive them to seek refuge, even when their actions become harmful, dangerous, or debilitating.  Even when their very lives are turned upside down and losing everything is a real threat or reality.

How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Who Refuses to Accept Help


Many individuals with bipolar and schizophrenic disorders do not seem to recognize that they suffer from a mental illness. A syndrome has been identified in individuals, particularly individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, who adamantly refuse to believe that they need help or treatment. Anosognosia is a deficit of self-awareness, a condition in which a person seems unaware of the existence of his or her disability.

There is evidence that anosognosia related to schizophrenia may be the result of frontal lobe damage.  E. Fuller Torrey, a psychiatrist and schizophrenia researcher, believes that among those with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, anosognosia is the most prevalent reason for not taking medications.

“The problem is with the 50 percent who do not have insight into their illness. They often stop taking their medications as soon as they walk out the hospital door. These are the people who end up on the streets, in jail or committing violent acts. We have no mechanism to get these people back on medication.”

E. Fuller Torrey,

Executive Director of the Stanley Medical Research Institute

Founder of Treatment Advocacy Center

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Although  it is not at all easy to admit that one has a mental illness, the stigma of mental illness is still alive and rampant.

Three out of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. When a person is labelled by their illness they are seen as part of a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination.

Others Want to Help

Offering support to someone suffering from a mental illness or depression is a delicate thing. So, how do you help a loved one that refuses your help? What do you do when they refuse treatment?

While you may disagree with the choices your loved one makes, try to stay positive and be supportive. Alienating the individual may create a combative situation. It’s most effective to actually offer your support. To help you do this:

  • Be informed about the help your loved one needs
  • Be available to truly listen when they need it
  • Set boundaries on the things you can and cannot do – and sticking to them whatever it takes
  • Take care of yourself first!

How to Offer Help

If the person you want to help denies that they need it and resists you, consider trying the following approaches.

These steps are recommended by inpatient and outpatient behavioral health facilities:

  • If it’s an emergency in which you or someone you know is suicidal, you should immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency room.
  • If the person is a threat of danger to others, such as physical violence with a weapon or not, call 911 and seek shelter for yourself and children.
  • If no danger is detected, try to remain courteous and non-threatening, but be honest and direct.
  • Listen to the person in a non-judgmental way.
  • Avoid confrontation; be prepared to “agree to differ” with the person’s perspective.
  • While staying calm, discuss with them your reason for concern.

Helping Someone Who Refuses Help

If the person does not want help today, ask if they would like to go another time.

  • Offer to go with them for the initial assessment or ask if they would like you to be there during the assessment.
  • If the person is not interested in the services you have in mind, maybe there is another environment where they would feel more comfortable initially.
  • If none of the above is an option at this time, consider joining a local support group of family members who work to support the loved ones struggling with mental health challenges.

When to Try Intervention

An intervention is a professionally directed face-to-face meeting between a substance abuser and people who have been affected by that person’s abuse-generally family, friends and sometimes employers and coworkers. The goal of an intervention is to motivate a substance abuser to seek help with his or her drug and/or alcohol problem.

Informal interventions can be useful for less severe cases of substance use. But a formal intervention may be a more successful option for people who resist help. A professional who has experience with treating substance abuse directs it. In Alyson’s case, her family chose a professional intervention because they had treatment lined up and ready to go to inpatient treatment right then and there.

About TMS Treatment

While TMS has promise for treating individuals with addiction issues, that would be an off-label TMS treatment, which is currently in clinical trials. TMS is FDA cleared for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) in patients who have not responded satisfactorily to previous depression treatment(s).

TMS may be helpful in treating addiction patients for underlying depression issues, as prescribed by their physician.

Please feel free to contact us if have questions!

How to Help Someone with Mental Illness That Does Not Want Help

Dr. Scott West

About Nashville NeuroCare Therapy: In April of 2010, Dr. West brought the technology of NeuroStar TMS to Nashville, becoming the first physician in Tennessee to offer the option of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for patients whose severe depression has not responded to a course of antidepressant medication or treatment for depression. The team at Nashville NeuroCare Therapy offers the most experience in the Tennessee-area. We have treated 550+ patients across the U.S. and administered 16,000+ TMS treatments, plus we maintain some of the highest percentages of positive patient responses and remission rates in the industry.

At Nashville NeuroCare Therapy, we deliver personalized therapy, specializing in TMS Therapy and Neurofeedback. We provide safe and well-researched therapies for depression, ADHD and sleep problems—all without the need for medication.

For more information on our therapies for Depression, ADHD and Sleep Problems, please contact us at (615) 465-4875 or or or visit our website

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APA Reference
West, W. (2016). How to Help Someone with Mental Illness That Does Not Want Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Jan 2016
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