How to Help People in Denial of Their Mental Illness

November 28, 2016 Becky Oberg

Do you know people in denial of their mental illness? If so, you know getting them help is impossible. Here's how to help a person stop denying mental illness.

The first stage of mental illness is denial. It's also a common symptom of mental illness and a barrier to treatment. So how do you help people in denial of their mental illness? While it may seem hopeless, there's actually quite a bit that you can do.

Things to Do to Help Someone in Denial of Their Mental Illness

1. Challenge Stigma

Stigma is a barrier to treatment. Many people in denial about their mental illness are influenced by stigma. They want to believe they're too good and that mental illness is a character flaw. They want to believe that if they just had enough faith, God would heal them. They want to believe they can just snap out of it by thinking positive thoughts. The list of what they want to believe instead of accepting reality is usually grounded in stigma.

So challenge stigma when you hear it. Let them know that the stigma is baseless. Tell them they are not crazy, psycho, schizo, loony, or whatever the current term is. Help them realize that they're not weak, bad, or somehow deficient--they're sick. Remember, mental illness is caused by a combination of environmental and physical factors--it is a legitimate medical illness.

2. Set Personal Limits and Stick to Them

Do you know people in denial of their mental illness? If so, you know getting them help is impossible. Here's how to help a person stop denying mental illness.Sometimes you have to give a little tough love. For example, my ex-fiance had borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. He went off his medication, telling me "Medication don't do nothing Jesus can't." He then became abusive, and I told him, "Either you go back on your medication and get back in therapy or it's over." Long story short, he flew into a rage, said he was fine and God would heal him and I'm happily single.

Did it hurt to lay down the law? Yes. Did it hurt to lose him? Yes, for a few minutes, then it felt like a great big weight had been lifted off of me. I had to set limits for my sanity's sake and for my physical and mental safety.

When someone you love has a mental illness but is in denial about it, you have to set limits and stick to them. Tell him/her you love and support him/her and don't want to see him/her destroy him/herself. Suggest when appropriate and timely that a mental health professional might be able to help more than you. Listen, but say when you can't help and it might be time to talk to a counselor. Be a broken record until the idea is finally accepted.

3. Support the Person When He/She Seeks Help

The best thing you can do for someone with mental illness is be there. When he/she finally sees that he/she needs help, support that decision. Offer to help the person get to and from appointments. Tell the person repeatedly that he/she are doing the right thing. Encourage progress. Tell the person that you love him/her and are proud of him/ her. Seeking help is a difficult decision, tell the person you know that.

People in Denial of Their Mental Illness Need Your Support

There will be good days and bad days. Recognize this, and encourage them to stay on their medication and in therapy. Recovery is real when people are in treatment. Let them know that. Call them on it when they start thinking they're cured; always encourage them to discuss any changes in their treatment plan with their provider.

Denial of mental illness is powerful, but it can be overcome. Be ready to fight to help your loved one in denial of his/her psychiatric symptoms.

You can also find Becky Oberg on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and Linkedin.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2016, November 28). How to Help People in Denial of Their Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Author: Becky Oberg

September, 30 2021 at 2:49 pm

My mom has always been emotionally erratic and unstable. She has especially had continuous problems with severe rage and depression issues. She used to confide in me as a child and would tell me how much she hated herself. She confided in me a lot growing up and would talk to me about how bad my sister was and she turned me against my own father. As I have got older I see that she needs serious help and she is refusing. She is not making sense and is lie-ing compulsively, and speaking in circles. I lover her, how can I help her? She is being really emotionally abusive to me.

October, 5 2023 at 3:08 am

I have Exactly what you described with my mom... I've recently came back to live with mom from living abroad for years...Really was happy to spend time together i started remodeling the house, and had plans for nice things and traveling with her but all that happened is Her behavior destroyed everything i created for myself for the past years. My finances, my work ethic, my sanity.... She refused every good thing i wanted to do,we didnt travel anywhere, i blew all my money... and she speaks that ppl are out to get her... it broke my heart and still is... She is so toxic that I dont know who am i anymore... all i know is i need to run far from here...

February, 25 2020 at 2:34 am

My husband and I are currently living with our son, who is developing the symptoms of schizoprenia (sp?) or some other condition. His personality has so changed that we rarely interact because he hides from us, usually hiding in the bathroom for hours on end. He used to be quite social-even with us-and had many friends. He is so uncommunicative now that they embrace the stigma association and essentially all have rejected him.
He stares at walls, whispering to "the prophet", often yells at the voices in his head, and, well, we don't see him at all-well,barely.
What I wish to know is if I should phone the doctor's office before we go, and give them a "heads up' from our point of view since we live with him every day. We are desperate to have him diagnosed properly, even though my son is in total denial-"nothing is wrong" or "I'm perfectly fine".It is critical to us, obviously, that the doctor can see through the denial and recognize the denial.
Thank you for your wonderful article, full of hope and strength.

September, 16 2019 at 4:20 pm

Why do we have to force our views on other people? As long as they are not hurting other people, if these people want to deny their so called "mental illnesses", then let them?
Just so you know, I am a Thomas Szasz style libertarian who believes people should not be forced to believe do do things they do not want to do. I believe psychiatry should be voluntary and consensual, NEVER compulsory or coercive

June, 18 2019 at 3:47 am

Recently had to cut a friend out of my life because her toxic behavior reminded me so much of my own actions when I was at my sickest. I felt like such a hypocrite, but I knew that she was triggering the worst in me. Now I hear that all the conversations we had on the matter, where she seemed willing to hear me out, have since been discarded and she’s aggressively badmouthing me to a mutual friend. The same friend she spent the year before this complaining about to me. The things she’s saying are almost surreal in how much they describe HER more than me, but because of my own self-esteem and past issues with my mental health and inability to self-validate, I am having doubts about how much I’ve really changed myself.

October, 28 2020 at 9:54 am

Please let go of the doubt about yourself. People that are ill and in denial will destroy others lives before admitting their own illness. My BF of 25 years hid his illness ( entire family is beyond ill ) very well. I knew there was something different about he and his family but thought it was just a different culture behavior as they are african american. Once i revealed that I was aware of the odd behavior being bipolar, schizophrenic, among other illnesses, he and family began abusing me terribly. They enjoyed the game playing for so long, they would laugh at how I didnt see it. I almost wish i did not reveal knowing,as i am battling a chronic illness and depend on him 100 % financially. I believe his intent was to use and abuse a whit woman at the direction of his evil mother.He has begged me a few times to forgive him and his family and then denies that he did. He has convinced my entire family that I have a mental illness because he is a great actor and is thriving on the fact that everyone believes him and noone believes me w the absolute truth. I now have him recorded doing strange things and have told him that if he does not seek help, I will expose him.He says he will commit suicide if I do, and then denies saying that too. Its truly madness and I know I've been intertwined in HIS crazy, its almost unavoidable. I will most likely be Homeless and I'm sure he and his family designed it that way as well. At least I will have Peace of mind tho ! I've been reading the bible and have learned that the root cause of mental illness is the 'torment' that results from agreeing with something that is contrary to how God thinks, speaks and acts. I believe it is also caused by childhood trauma. There should not be shame in mental illness , Only shame in the denial,as it harms others in tramatic ways. thanks for hearing my story, I absolutely have Noone other than Jesus believing me and its very stressful.♥ God bless You ♥

June, 1 2019 at 1:07 pm

What do you do when your mom has mental illness and is in denial? She has never healed from an bad marriage which was physical abuse and mental abuse.
She is so angry and bitter and blames me for her issues. Every time I tell her to get help she goes off in a rage. Please Help

June, 2 2019 at 9:58 pm

Anna, I'm so sorry you're in this position, I've been in a similar one with family members as well. I've found the best thing I can do, both for my loved one and for myself, is make gentle, loving suggestions for getting help at every safe opportunity, and establish clear boundaries. Everyone needs to know that people care about them, and that your recommendation to seek professional help doesn't come from a place of "I'm judging you" or "You're terrible and crazy," but rather from a place of "I care about you and want you to be happier than this." But at the same time, at the end of the day, everyone is responsible for themselves, and you can't force someone to deal with their issues before they're ready. Remember to take care of yourself as well and establish clear boundaries. For instance, it's totally inappropriate for a parent to blame a child for their issues. I'm awful at establishing boundaries, even though it's what I need to do, so I don't have much advice here, but a professional might be able to help. Many children of parents with mental health troubles benefit from mental health care as well, and it might make you feel safer and more understood.

kate williams
January, 19 2019 at 10:37 pm

Im an english girl in thailand and my thai boyfriend stopped weed after 20 yesrs which was brilliant till it triggered depression paranoia suicidal thoughts talking to himself delusions....often he doesnt respond...its breaking my heart as i feel like the man i loved has gone he seems so far away...ive managed to convince him to see a doctor tmrw but knowing local medicine in thai im not scared as i dont think i can go on like this im trying to bestrong bt am also trying to look after myself too after being tecently diagnosed with mito disease....when do u walk awayand how do u not feel guiltwhen its someone uouv been with for 6 years....mental health in a loved one is a hard situation

November, 20 2018 at 9:36 am

My mom has depression and is in denial about it. She has had it for years. I think the medication she is taking is not working anymore and needs to try something else. A lot has happened in her life and she does not find pleasure in anything. I feel so hopeless in helping her because her denial is so great. I try to do things to make her happy, but nothing works. I have tried to take her to a counselor, but she won't go. I just see her going downhill and i feel helpless. Depression is real.

Gary b
October, 25 2018 at 7:55 pm

So what do you do when it is your child who is in denial.of mental health issues .
Give them an ultimatum to accept that fact and if not walk away leaving them in an institution.
Ps . It wouldn't even be an institution it would be a walk into homelessness and the criminal justice system n then prison
Don't think so !

Vera Lopes
October, 18 2018 at 5:46 pm

My daughter is 34 year old. Has struggled for over five years with Menthal illnes. She refuses to take medication, although she has taken it for four years her aim was to come off. They kept saying to her you'll be able to stop just fee more month , she had enough of empity promisses and decided to stop. U fortunately all her friends disappeared and she feels it's because of her taking medication and they knew. She had medical review today and was told she needs to go BK on medication. She's been sectioned at the start and now faces it happening again. I was told they are looking to send a medical team to assess her to see if she has the Menthal capacity to make those decisions if not she'll be sectioned. We plan to talk to her as a family and try to convince her to accept treatment. How can we approach this and make her understand she needs medication to achieve her dreams. Please help.

December, 27 2017 at 5:23 pm

My cousin lost his mother about 4 years ago. He never grieved correctly and it’s only getting worse and worse. He’s angry at everyone all the time and refuses any kind of treatment. He also never had a good relationship with his father, it’s now getting to the point where he is becoming physical and taking it out on his girlfriend by hitting her. He will be triggered by any little thing. He doesn’t want help from anyone and if you suggest it he turns it around as if he’s better than that and doesn’t need it. He’s threatened suicide and shooting others in his time of rage. How to we get him to get help without pushing him completely over the edge. I truly feel like I’ve lost my best friend.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

December, 28 2017 at 3:17 am

Hi Stacey,
I'm so sorry you are in this situation. If your cousin is hitting his girlfriend, considering suicide, and threatening to shoot others, you need to think of everyone's safety first. Please call 911 or the proper authorities if he is threatening to harm himself or others.

Rachel Lundy
November, 28 2017 at 9:31 am

My sister is incapable of being able to see reality from truth. She believes she is in a major love story with an Egyptian man which has been going on for 12 years. She lives in the UK, he lives in Cairo. The truth is that she has sent thousands upon thousands of pounds to him over the years for so many reasons its incredulous. Most are hospital and operation bills. She has been made bankrupt, house about to be repossessed creditors after her all the time, inland revenue chasing her but she still won't believe this man is a con man. We have tried supporting th fantasy and allowing her to talk about it as if real . Softly softly approach. We have challenged her and asked her to ask questions. Nothing has worked. We are at our wits end as to how to deal with the situation. How do we get help for her. ?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
November, 29 2017 at 2:15 am

Hi Rachel,
I know how hard it can be when someone refuses to see reality. There certainly is no easy way to deal with this.
I recommend you look up the book "You Need Help"… as it's specifically about getting your loved one into therapy. You may or may not believe she needs therapy, but I suspect in her situation, she does.
(I have no affiliation with the book and neither does HealthyPlace.)
I hope that helps.
- Natasha Tracy

September, 21 2017 at 12:27 pm

My husbands denial of mental illness is making life a living hell everyday I am begging his family for help but they do nothing I am at of my rope I have a 2 year old son in the mix too.

September, 19 2017 at 11:08 pm

My co-worker has been telling me that her church has been bugging her phones and people are breaking into her home and leaving things to make it look like she is stealing from our boss. All the time saying "I'm not crazy." It goes on. I reported to my boss in hopes that we could get help, instead my co-worker was given the choice of getting therapy or leaving the job. She left. I work for a psychologist. My boss says there is nothing at all we can do if my co-worker refuses treatment. This can't be right. Please tell me something different.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

September, 20 2017 at 5:37 am

Thank you for your comment. If your co-worker refuses treatment and she isn't ready to get help, no therapy or program is going to get through to her. It's amazing how much you care but she needs to see that something isn't right and she has to be the catalyst for change. Anything else is going to be futile.

Vanessa Baldwin-Chestnut
August, 10 2017 at 1:38 am

How to help my husband with his mental issues

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December, 8 2016 at 4:42 pm

You're so cool! I do not suppose I've truly read anything like
that before. So wonderful to discover another person with some original thoughts on this issue.
Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website
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Dr Musli Ferati
December, 7 2016 at 6:21 am

Denial of mental illness indicates great and serious impediment to mindful psychiatric treatment, because it exist still huge and unbroken stigma against mental health respectively mental illnesses. So it is very important to persuade anyone with mental difficulties to accept professional psychiatric help. Your three recommendations have got great positive impact in due time to begin with psychiatric treatment, because mental diseases have tendencies to develop hard and irreversible complications for global health welfare. In this direction it ought to make maximal effort to avoid the prejudices and different misconceptions of real nature of mental disorders. In my daily practice, as clinical psychiatrist the paradigm of prevention of any mental disorder contribute to soften the denial of comprehensive and mindful psychiatric treatment. There are a lot of psychiatric patients whose remark of prevention of serious and difficult mental disorders with appropriate psychiatric help is efficient. This psychiatric trick isn't any laying of any patient but a right way to take psychiatric medication or/and others psychiatric intervention. However current psychiatric treatment and management is the main treatment of mental disorders which one didn't exclude any others comparative mental help such are some psycho-social interventions. To achieve the up to date intention of psychiatric treatment and management of mental illnesses, it should insist on instant and on specific shedule of respective mental disorder.

December, 1 2016 at 4:27 am

I am suffering with loneliness and fear now because of my environment ostricizing me and making fun of me for 3 years now!, I asked for help in the town I live but Boone would support me!,Now I am currently emotionally mentally and physically I' I am giving up inside! I'm not happy anymore. There is also to much stress on my back with no support. I don't know what I am going to do!, I have noone.What shall I do ? I'm getting worse!

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