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When a Mentally Ill Family Member Refuses Treatment

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It may be frustrating, even embarrassing, to have an adult family member who has mental health issues. When the mental health behaviors are extreme, people outside the family may ridicule or laugh at the individual or ask family members why they do not "do something." An even more complicated issue may be attempting to get the immediate family member to see that their behaviors or actions indicate a need for diagnosis and treatment. Whether the person lives with you or is an immediate family member with whom you have regular contact in person, by telephone, or social media, the behaviors and actions of the relative may be more than frustrating and embarrassing; it can be very stressful.

Strange behaviors or actions may indicate serious need of help

Some families may just brush off the behaviors, actions, or strange things that a relative says as just that he or she has always been "weird." It may actually be an indication of one or more serious mental health issues. When the person does not care or sees nothing wrong with any of the behaviors or what has been said, even though everyone else seems to know that there is something wrong with it, help may be needed as soon as possible.

Your mentally ill family member may refuse to take medications properly

If the person has been under the care of mental health professionals in the past, but is acting "weird" again, he or she may be off their psychiatric medication. The mentally ill may also sometimes take more than the prescribed psych med dose, resulting in even more bizarre and dangerous behaviors.

While you may want to help your parent, sibling, or child who is obviously in need of immediate intervention due to frequent strange behaviors, actions, or comments, there are major issues that can prevent you from being able to intervene the way you would like to.

The mentally ill have the right to say "no"

It may seem that the simple solution to helping the immediate family member get needed care is for you to call a mental health agency or therapist and make an appointment for your loved one. That may seem like an easy task, but it is actually impossible.

I worked at a mental health facility and was yelled at, cursed at, and called names other than the one on my birth certificate when I had to inform family members that no one but the individual in need of treatment can make an appointment, unless an individual from the courts is calling to set up court-ordered treatment. State and federal laws protect the rights of the mentally ill, just as they do the physically ill. Unless a person is in immediate danger of harming himself or someone else, nothing can be done to force the mentally ill person to have a psychiatric assessment, take medications, or enter into mental health treatment.

The pain of personal observation

Often, the mentally ill family member sees nothing wrong with what they are doing, no matter how "out there" it may seem to the rest of the family. So when I was recently informed that a relative had taken pictures of herself and quite proudly posted them to social media pages, completely "made up" with face makeup to go with the costume of a popular superhero that the family member was wearing, I cringed. I cringed from frustration, but also sadness.

Living with the knowledge of someone suffering from mental illness is heart-wrenching, but knowing there is nothing you can do is even more so. It is like the alcoholic or drug addict -- you cannot help an individual who does not want the help, especially when they see nothing wrong with their actions. All you can offer is compassion and love.

I never looked at the social media page, and I won't. I can only hope she will seek help or be forced to get the help abandoned long ago, before she decides that she has the super powers to go along with the superhero costume, spinning an even larger web of mental health behaviors. Hopefully, she or anyone else won't suffer injury or death because of the inability of immediate family members to intervene when a loved one desperately needs mental health intervention.

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