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Denial Of Illness

Almost half of people with a diagnosis of an illness do not believe they are ill and refuse treatment. It can’t be happening to me! Evidence suggests that denial of the illness is a symptom of the illness itself. Often it is the reaction to the disbelief that something is unjustly happening to you.

Many people are still turned off by seeking help for a mental health concern, especially for the likes of depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, an eating issue, or anxiety.

This denial is often regarded as poor insight when referring to someone who is unaware of their illness. The unwell person may believe that they are not sick and don’t have any symptoms. This belief will often persist after they are confronted with overwhelming evidence that they do have an illness at all.

You can expect frustration and anger (for both the carer and the person being cared for) and you can expect overt and secretive non-compliance with treatment.

Denial can have many impacts:

  • Poor compliance with medication and other treatments
  • Higher rates of relapse
  • Increased number of involuntary hospital admissions
  • Poor psychosocial functioning – poor behavioral and social skills
  • Poor course of illness where symptoms may intensify
  • Extreme frustration for carers (but we try to contain that frustration)

When communicating with someone in denial, words and questions that communicate acceptance and understanding are wise to use. They can separate the symptoms of the illness from the person, and remove blame. Words have power, and negative words place the blame on the person being cared for which will probably exacerbate the issue. They convey a lack of understanding that can have a negative impact on the person’s thoughts or actions. Using negative language may cause the person you care for to become defensive and reject your best efforts.

You can’t get help if you don’t acknowledge you need help. Just as we are often our own worst critics, people are also sometimes the last to admit their own shortcomings or failings. There are many reasons why denial is a common coping mechanism used by people. It allows the person to continue to function in daily life, even if they are not always functioning well.  We are the products of our upbringing, whether we admit it or not; we may have learned this from our parents. Men seem particularly guilty when it comes to admitting they have an illness and more reluctant to seek medical advice.

The best way to unlearn this behavior is to admit you have a problem as the first step and to seek out help.

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