For many people, one of the hardest parts of getting treated for mental illness is recognizing and accepting that they need help in the first place.
Several cultures have a strong stigma against mental illness. In the US this stigma comes in two forms: first the denigration of anyone with mental illness as crazy, unstable, delusional, dangerous, etc; second the belief that someone who is “strong” enough can “just get over it.”
These stigmas are either misleading or completely false. (Are people with mental illness delusional? Some of them due suffer from hallucinations. But there are other kinds of delusional–like my father expecting me to be able to pull thousands of dollars out of my ass. In my opinion, anyone who claims to know US history and claims the US was founded as a Christian nation qualifies as delusional. Three words: Treaty of Tripoli.) Are people with mental illness dangerous? People with mental illness are more likely to victims than attackers, at least in the US. As far as the idea that mental illness a sign of weakness or something you can “just get over,” it’s just ridiculous. Mental illness is just as much a “real” illness as diabetes, heart disease or a severe vitamin deficiency. And no one would expect someone to just “get over” those.
Because of these stigmas and false assumptions about mental illness, many people refuse to get help until they are backed into a corner. In fact, there are are actually parallels to addiction, and the way many people refuse to admit they are addicts until they hit rock bottom. Refusing to consider the possibility of mental illness until you lose your job, drive away your friends and family, or are contemplating suicide makes the entire process of treatment and recovery that much worse.
For people diagnosed as children, the problems and challenges of (re)entering treatment are very different. It is very common for children with mental illness to bounce from one shrink to another, often getting pulled away from therapists they like and have a good rapport with, as their parents search for a headshrinker who will “fix” their problem child–preferably without ever suggesting or implying that they may in anyway be responsible for their child’s problems.
This means, for children with mental illness, their therapist often is not on their side, is not working for and with them, and will betray their confidence.
When these children grow up, it can be very hard for them to trust mental health professionals. So while people who were diagnosed with mental illness as children don’t have the same problem admitting they have a problem (hell, the fact idea they have/are a problem might well have been pounded into their head until it’s become *part* of the problem). But like people who have trouble admitting they have a mental illness, people who were diagnosed as children may need to hit rock bottom before accepting help–after all, it never helped before.
Obviously, I’m painting a worst case scenario here. Some people who develop mental illness as adults are resistant to societal stigmas and start looking for help long before they are forced to by life. Some children have good experiences in therapy, and have no trouble continuing with treatment as adults (assuming they need treatment).
My own experiences were middle of the road. The therapists my parents took me too see never violated my confidence, and they all gave the impression, at least, of working for me and not my parents, but the one therapist I had a good rapport with, who was really helping me (and who incidentally wasn’t taking in by my parents BS) they yanked me away from as soon as possible, and replaced with a therapist who assured me (sincerely) that my problems were all due to a chemical imbalance in my brain and would all go away if I took the right pills.
When I was old enough to get my own medical care, first thing I did was call back that one shrink actually helped me and ask if he had an openings. I dedicated my first book to him, and credit that man with saving my life and sanity.
For folks in poly relationships, admitting you need help can create some big changes in your relationships. If your poly partners have been having difficulty dealing with your symptoms, then telling them you are getting help can you all a chance to step back, focus on the good, and looking for ways to make things better. However, if your poly partners have stigma against mental illness, telling them you’ve decided to look into getting treatment could cause a major rift in your relationship.
If one of your poly partners appears to be struggling with an untreated mental illness, be supportive, and make sure they know that you won’t think less of them or stigmatize them if they seek out treatment. You can’t force them to get help, and staging an “intervention” can backfire badly, but you can be there for them, help them consider their options, and generally be supportive.
Once someone with mental illness accepts that they need help, the next step (at least in the US) is getting a diagnosis.
This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.
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