How and Why Loved Ones Hide Mental Illness from Their Family
We’ve all heard the horror stories of the seemingly happy and well-adjusted teen attempting suicide. This type of news shakes a family to its core. And it happens way too often.
But here’s the truth. Mental health issues don’t pop up overnight. They dwell and fester, sometimes for years. They remain, often undetected, until the afflicted person can’t take it any longer.
At this point, self-medication is a very common response. This is why addiction and mental health issues so often occur simultaneously.
If you’re on the outside struggling to understand why your loved ones would hide mental illness from the family, this post may shed some light on the issues, and the stigma, related to mental illness today.
Fear of Negative Reactions
When someone is struggling with mental illness, it can be difficult for others to relate to their behaviour and reactions. Intense sadness may be seen as an overly-dramatic reaction. Or if someone is experiencing manic highs and lows as is common with bipolar disorder, they might often be told to curb their behaviour.
When you don’t understand mental illness, it’s easy to charge the afflicted person with the solution (i.e. telling them to fix their behaviour). But the problem is that the behaviour is a symptom of a bigger problem, and acting in a way that’s calmer isn’t going to do anything to address the mental health issue.
Feelings of worthlessness
When someone struggles with mental health issues, there’s a good chance they’re aware that their experience isn’t like everyone else’s. And many mental health issues lead to feelings of worthlessness that compound an already problematic situation.
Someone with a mental health issue may not feel worthy of the attention or work required to get help.
Not wanting to bother anyone
When we struggle with self-worth, we tend to push our feelings down in favour of another’s. We fear bringing something up that may cause an inconvenience for another person or bring down their mood. This feeling is very much connected to a feeling of worthlessness because it causes a person to feel like they aren’t worthy of someone else’s focus.
And when you feel unworthy, you’re so much more likely to attempt to handle your problems on your own. This is what leads to self-medication with drugs or alcohol, and that inevitably can lead to problems with substance abuse and addiction.
Fear of rejection
Imagine if someone struggling with a mental health issue overcame all those negative feelings and reached out only to be met with apathy. Imagine pouring your heart out to someone and that person doesn’t take you seriously. Or worse, they acknowledge your pain and do nothing to help you address it.
Most people have a fear of rejection, but when you have a mental illness, the stakes are very high. When you don’t reach out, you can hold out hope that someone will help. But if you reach out and don’t get help, it can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness.
These feelings of rejection may be completely unfounded, but with high stakes, they can keep a person from reaching out.
Being labelled as crazy
Your loved one may know that you’re going to be supportive. But if they suspect they need treatment, they could fear the social stigma. As a society, we’ve come a long way towards addressing the stigma around mental health issues, but we do still have a long way to go.
Your loved one may worry that people will treat him or her differently. Naturally, it feels easier when the world sees you as “normal”. But when someone with a mental illness is struggling to act “normal”, you can bet they feel anything but.
If you suspect a loved one is struggling with mental illness, try to open a dialogue. Let your loved one know that you’ll be there for them under any circumstances and you only want to improve their wellbeing.
Unfortunately, we can’t solve every problem for our loved ones, but we can let them know we’re ready and willing to help whenever they need us. And then, it’s our job to give them the space they need to make the next move.