Untreated mental illness is a growing problem around the world. In the United States alone, the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests that more than half of Americans who suffer from mental health issues don’t seek proper treatment. This statistic is troubling since an estimated 51.5 million adults suffer from some type of mental illness as of 2019. Basically, one out of every five adults has a mental illness.
There are many reasons why people don’t seek treatment for mental health problems. Sometimes, they’re simply unaware that how they feel is abnormal. Whatever the reason, though, it’s important to note that the consequences of untreated mental illness are dire.
Why People Don’t Seek Treatment for Mental Illness
It probably isn’t much of a shock that a large majority of people don’t seek treatment for mental health problems. The World Health Organization says that between 30% and 80% of the people who have mental health issues around the world don’t seek treatment. The question is “Why?”
One of the biggest reasons is the stigma that surrounds having a mental health problem. Because of this stigma, people feel afraid and ashamed that they have a mental illness. People don’t want others to label them as crazy or mentally ill because they believe it will negatively impact their lives.
Another issue is a simple lack of knowledge. Oftentimes, people don’t seek treatment because they’re unaware that they need it. They tell themselves that there’s nothing wrong and that what they feel is normal. Unfortunately what these people are feeling isn’t normal. Thus, continually dismissing their mental illnesses will only cause them more and more problems in life.
Some people report that they don’t seek mental health treatment because they believe that they can’t be helped. This feeling of hopelessness not only prevents them from getting better but also causes more mental health problems. For example, let’s say that an individual struggles with anxiety and doesn’t believe that there’s a treatment. This hopelessness can lead to depression, and now that person has two mental health problems.
Lastly, some people don’t seek treatment because of physical barriers. These could be money, work, or family responsibilities. For instance, some people simply don’t think that they can afford to get mental health treatment. Others don’t think that it will fit into their busy work schedules.
Addressing These Concerns
Frequently, the reasons why people don’t seek mental health treatment are all in their heads. Individuals that are concerned about seeking mental health treatment should speak to their loved ones and friends about any concerns that they may have as their loved ones are often able to help alleviate these concerns. Also, in many cases, the support that loved ones give helps people overcome the fear and shame that they feel from having mental health issues.
Physical barriers can be difficult to overcome, but there are options. Negotiating with employers, arranging for transportation, and requesting child care assistance can provide free time to get mental health treatment.
If money is an issue, keep in mind that the expansion of health insurance benefits has opened the door to more mental health care opportunities. Before those changes, it was hard to get insurance to pay for even a fraction of mental health treatment. Now, seeking mental health treatment is much more affordable.
Consequences of Untreated Mental Illness
People can face many consequences for untreated mental illness. In fact, untreated mental illness can cause both interpersonal and social consequences. Understanding the issues that can arise when people leave their mental illnesses untreated might motivate them to take the first step toward getting help.
Relationships With Friends and Family
Mental health issues change people and put a strain on their relationships with friends and family. Depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and other conditions can interfere with communication. As a result, relationships quickly unravel, and those with mental health issues alienate themselves. Typically, this alienation only exacerbates their symptoms.
Opening up to friends and family about mental health issues can help motivate individuals to receive the mental health care that they need. Besides, loved ones tend to be more understanding than what many people think. People with mental health disorders can even create a support group for themselves out of their supportive loved ones.
School and Work Performance
Problems with mental health can cause a lot of issues with school and work performance as well. Even depression can prevent people from going to work or school. People often worry that taking time away to deal with their mental health could cost them their jobs. In the long run, though, trying to work with a mental health problem is more likely to cost them their jobs.
Parents who have kids with dropping grades should pay attention to their kid’s mental well-being. While mental illness isn’t always the reason for falling grades, it could be the reason.
Failing grades combined with changes in behavior may be a sign of mental health issues or substance abuse. The quicker that parents spot the signs of these conditions, the easier it is for the parents to get help and prevent their kids from entering a downward spiral.
Development of Other Mental Health Issues
Once the brain develops a mental health problem, it becomes susceptible to developing others. Experts point out that it’s very common for people to suffer from more than one disorder at a time. A common example is anxiety and depression disorders.
When people suffer from anxiety disorders, such as separation and social anxiety, they find themselves continually worrying. If they fail to get help, the pressure of living with the disorder overwhelms them and can send them into depression.
On the flip side, people with depression might worry if they’ll ever come out of depression. Eventually, the worrying associated with depression can develop into anxiety. Then such people, once again, are suffering from more than one mental health issue. Suffering from more than one mental health issue is not a good thing, as many mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can worsen each other.
Substance Abuse and Untreated Mental Illness
While there are many different consequences for untreated mental illness, substance abuse is the one that occurs more often than not. Typically, people start to abuse substances when they try to manage their mental illnesses all on their own.
Let’s say that an individual struggles with social anxiety disorder. Just going to work every day causes anxiety. Instead of getting professional help to address the problem, the person may self-medicate with alcohol or another drug.
In the short term, the alcohol provides some much-needed relief. It lessens the effects of social anxiety and allows the individual to function normally. Once the buzz wears off though, the anxiety comes back full force.
Many people in this situation make the poor decision to drink more and more to keep the symptoms of their anxiety at bay. Unfortunately, doing this often causes people to develop an alcohol addiction on top of their anxiety. Once individuals suffer from a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder simultaneously, it will become even harder for them to function unless they seek treatment for both disorders.
At the end of the day, self-medicating is never the answer. All it does is cover up the true problem and lead people down a path towards addiction. Instead of trying to deal with mental health problems alone, individuals should seek professional mental health treatment.
As a result of the relationship between substance abuse and mental illness, most rehab centers offer dual-diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment simultaneously treats two or more disorders that feed off of one another and are occurring within one person.
Individuals that suffer from two co-occurring disorders should attend dual diagnosis treatment rather than treat each disorder one at a time. This is because treating one co-occurring disorder without simultaneously treating the other one could cause the lingering disorder to trigger the reoccurrence of the treated disorder.
People mistakenly believe that simply treating addiction is enough. However, people with dual diagnosis disorders that just focus on treating their substance addictions put themselves at risk of relapsing. This is because they aren’t treating the underlying cause of their substance addictions, which is their mental illnesses.
Let’s consider people who struggle with anxiety and substance abuse. If such people treat their substance abuse problems, what happens once they leave rehab and run into their anxiety issues again? They’re likely to deal with it the only way they know how, with substance abuse.
Had these individuals undergone dual-diagnosis treatment rather than just regular addiction treatment, they would have learned healthy ways to deal with their anxiety while also treating their addictions.
Let’s End the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Issues
Unless people have dealt with mental health problems firsthand, it’s hard for them to understand the stigma surrounding these issues. However, everyone can help end the negative stigma surrounding mental illness by simply educating themselves about mental health issues. Knowledge is power.
For those who struggle with mental health problems, it’s crucial to remember that it’s not your fault. You shouldn’t feel ashamed of the problems that they have to live with on a daily basis, nor should you struggle alone.
Individuals that suffer from mental health disorders can get the help that they need to overcome their mental illnesses in a safe way. The more people open up about their mental health problems, the easier that it will be to dispel the stigma surrounding these issues.
Reach Out to Florida Center for Recovery
Are you looking for a rehab center that offers co-occurring disorder treatment? Do you struggle with both substance abuse and underlying mental health disorders? If so, consider reaching out to the friendly staff at Florida Center for Recovery.
We offer a wide range of programs that can help people just like you overcome substance abuse and the underlying cause. Some of the programs that we offer include:
Don’t settle by receiving addiction treatment at a rehab center that doesn’t understand how important it is to treat underlying mental health disorders. Reach out to Florida Center for Recovery to overcome both your substance use and mental health disorder once and for all. Contact us today to take your first steps toward a better you.
Dr. Balta is the Medical Director at FCR for more than 10 years. Dr. Balta is Board Certified in Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, Certified Psychoanalyst. As well, as having Psychiatric Training at The Albert Einstein School of Medicine Psychiatric Residency Program In New York City and Psychoanalytic Training at The William Alanson White Institute in New York City. While working in New York City, gained funding Grants for the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders from SAMHSA , HRSA and the City of New York.