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Breaking Barriers: 8 Ways to Support Someone Refusing Mental Health Medication



As someone who lives with bipolar disorder, I understand firsthand the complexities and challenges that come with managing a mental health condition.


While I now religiously adhere to my medication regimen, there was a time when I struggled to accept the need for medication and consistency in treatment.


I hated the idea of taking meds. I felt shame that I even needed them.


I've been through the "get off my back, I'm not taking this crap" stage of managing my illness to "I'm so thankful I have a disorder that can be treated."


If you're a family member or friend with a loved one who isn't on board with medication as part of their treatment, this is for you.


1. FIND OUT THEIR "WHY."

Have you ever stopped to wonder why they might struggle with staying consistent with their meds or seeking professional help?


It could be a multitude of reasons—maybe it's the financial burden, the unpleasant side effects, a misdiagnosis, not connecting with their doctor, or simply forgetting. Taking the time to understand their perspective is crucial.


Even if you don’t entirely agree with their reasoning, showing them that you’re willing to listen can make a world of difference.

 

2. WEIGH THE PROS AND CONS.

Exploring how medications impact their daily life can provide valuable insight into their treatment journey.


Engage in meaningful discussion about the consequences of missing or stopping meds. What are the perks of staying on track? What does being healthy feel like to them?


The pros and cons should be identified by THEM, with your encouragement and observations as necessary. Consider how the use of vor lack of medication influences the health of various aspects of their life (such as work, school, relationships, health, purpose, etc).


This is not a blame game. This is an opportunity for them to be in the driver's seat of self awareness, while you offer support and guidance.

 

3. EXPLORE OPTIONS TOGETHER.

We often want to control the decisions and outcomes of our loved ones. I totally get it.


Knock it off.


Instead of dictating what they “should” do, consider brainstorming potential solutions together. Are there compromises they are willing to make?


By involving them in the decision-making process, you empower your loved one to take charge of the next steps—a crucial step in autonomy and agency.


Spoiler alert.


They have to be willing to put in the effort. You cannot take the effort and choice to manage a mental health condition as your responsibility.


Depending on where they're at in their journey (as well as their age, ability, access to support, and diagnosis), they may or may not be ready for this step.


Explore what can be done in the moment. Take it day by day.

 

4. VIEW THEIR SITUATION THROUGH KIND EYES.

Remember, you may not fully grasp the complexity of their thoughts, challenges, and experiences. They are the ones walking the road through recovery and medication management...which is likely a path with difficult terrain.


Let your loved one know that you're proud of them for every big or small step they take.


This will help chip away at self-doubt, insecurity, or shame they may feel. Your kindness and encouragement can provide validation and motivation for them to continue moving in the right direction.


5. SET BOUNDARIES.

It’s important to establish clear boundaries that align with your own needs and limitations.


This is a must.


By communicating these boundaries with them in a compassionate and assertive way, you create a framework for mutual respect and understanding.


Speak from your own experience and tell them what YOU will and will not do, as opposed to what THEY should or should not do. These are your boundaries.

 

6. BE PATIENT AND KEEP SHOWING UP.

Don’t only check in with them to talk about medication, or you’ll send them heading for the hills. People tend to feel defensive or attacked when conversations about mental health medication arise, so your patience is a must.


Understand that change takes time and it may be a process for them to come to terms with the idea of taking medication. It also takes time for medications to work.


Maybe your loved one needs different combinations of medications. Maybe they would benefit from naturopathic treatments instead of pharmaceuticals. Be flexible and willing to learn.


When they know they can count on you to listen without judgment, they are more likely to open up with honesty.

  

7. INVOLVE OTHERS.

It's important to respect your loved one's privacy and confidentiality, however, there may come a time when their safety or well-being is at risk and you need to involve others.


This may include informal support (parents, spouses, friends, coworkers) and/or formal support (988, crisis teams, clinicians, law enforcement).


The best outcome is when professionals become involved with the permission and agreement from your loved one. However, you do have the option to petition for involuntary psychiatric evaluation or treatment if necessary.


This should be a last resort if your loved one is refusing help and they are a danger to self, others, and/or unable to care for themselves.


This is a system-involved legal process that removes the person’s right to make decisions for themselves (usually temporarily). This should be a well-thought-out plan that is driven by care and concern.


Might your loved one be mad at you for filing a petition? Yes.


Might it drastically impair your relationship? Yes.


Might it save their life or keep them from hitting rock bottom? Yes.


Contact your local community mental health resources to identify the most effective course of action.

 

8. SEEK SUPPORT FOR YOURSELF.

At the end of the day, you must take care of yourself.


Helping someone with mental health struggles can take a toll on your own well-being because it's natural to want to "fix" them. It's hard to watch from afar.


Another spoiler alert. You cannot fix your loved one.


First off, they aren't broken, and secondly, you cannot do the hard work for them. Their ability and willingness to prioritize their own mental health is a decision they must make.


Taking care of your personal needs enables you to offer compassionate support while also honoring the boundaries you've established for yourself. You must be realistic about what you can and cannot take on.


If you're feeling overwhelmed or need additional guidance, don't hesitate to reach out for support. Whether it's through therapy, family support, peer groups, medication, or online resources, know that you're not alone in this journey.


Brighter days are ahead. We are in this together.


Erin Callinan, MSW is a thriving business owner, author, and keynote speaker breaking mental health stigma across national stages. She is the Founder of Beneath The Brave where she combines practical strategies with evidence-based research to help companies enhance employee mental health. Get in touch with Erin at erin@beneaththebrave.com or visit Beneath The Brave at www.beneaththebrave.com


Have a look at these additional mental health resources:


Mental Health First Aid Certification (MHFA): Beneath The Brave offers an 8 hour certification course that teaches you how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Learn more www.beneaththebrave.com/mhfa


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): NAMI offers a wealth of resources, including support groups, educational materials, and helplines for individuals and families affected by mental illness. Visit www.nami.org


988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988 provides free 24/7 call, text and chat access to trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing a substance use and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. Call or text 988 or visit www.988lifeline.org



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