Help Getting “Help” With Mental Illness

I recently heard someone say something to the effect of, “We should be empathetic toward people with a mental illness who are getting help for it.” I agree wholeheartedly with the first part of that statement, but something about the second part rubbed me the wrong way, though I agree with the sentiment.

There are a lot of reasons someone could not be getting help for a mental illness. As we all probably know, one of the biggest ones is $$$. I am lucky to have a good salary and benefits, but even then quality psychiatric care can be prohibitively expensive. Also, as in every area of life, you get what you pay for. The good facilities, newer generation drugs, and highly-renowned psychiatrists and therapists are all more expensive. So, there’s that.

But what about other reasons people may not be getting help for a mental illness? Can we judge those? Well, even then, the issue gets sticky. Some people living with a mental illness may either be living in denial or may not even be aware that they have a serious mental illness. That was certainly my experience with bipolar disorder. My perspective of the world and my version of reality seemed so very real to myself that even when others told me it wasn’t, or that I was delusional, I myself felt I was fine or even better than fine and they were exaggerating or unnecessarily concerned. Philip K. Dick said that reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, continues to exist. But we tend to believe our own reality above everything else. In this sense, some people may truly be unaware that they are experiencing a mental illness.

But what about people who keep going in and out of the hospital, or on and off their meds or a treatment regimen? Surely those people don’t want help? Yes, you do hear stories of people who go off their meds because they miss being manic or high or they miss those grand ideas that make the real world less dim and depressing. But as someone who has been in and out of the rotating door of inpatient and outpatient treatment, I can tell you it’s a bit more complicated than that. I can tell you that A) This is very, very common for people living with a serious mental illness. The majority of people I met in psychiatric wards were not there for the first time. And B) I certainly judged myself that way, and I know others who did, too. Why can’t I just get it together and keep it together, a lot of us thought? There must be something fundamentally flawed in me. It sometimes becomes a self-defeating, self-fulfilling prophecy.

The truth is, mental illness is often cyclical, for a variety of reasons. Mental health treatment often takes time to work, and usually several different drugs and therapies have to be tried before the right fit is found. Sometimes that particular regimen stops working, and different treatments have to be tried. Sometimes life circumstances interfere and exacerbate symptoms.

And yes, sometimes people do go off their meds and stop getting “help,” but that could be for a variety of reasons, too. Some of the side effects from these meds are brutal, and yes, sometimes people do miss the happiness of their “high” mental states when they are living with crushing depression or the feeling that they are no longer the best version of themselves. Unless you’ve been in a similar situation, however, it’s really hard to know what that’s like.

I don’t mean to sound preachy here, those were just some of the thoughts racing through my head in response to that particular comment. *All* people living with a mental illness deserve our empathy—it’s tough no matter what, whether or not you’re getting help for it, and even whether or not you’re sticking to a treatment plan. I like to think most people with a chronic illness, if they were offered a treatment they could afford with no nasty side effects, and without the fear of losing their job, employment, housing, relationships, or peace of mind, would take it. The truth is, it’s often more complicated than that.

One thought on “Help Getting “Help” With Mental Illness

  1. Since I am medicated, see a psychiatrist and manage my mania and depression fairly well, I tend to fixate on what my mood is like when it is NOT in mania or depression. Is that state supposed to feel good or “normal”? I have read that in between state is known as “negative symptoms” as opposed to the “positive symptoms” of easily identifiable mania and depression. It doesn’t feel normal or even balanced sometimes, and I find I am settling for just not having severe symptoms.


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