You love someone. They are turning their life into a shambles; creating a disaster…putting themselves at risk… making horrible choices… etc., etc. You desperately want to help them, but they politely or not so politely refuse your help. They do not think that they have a problem. This is a problem that families face whether we are talking about Hoarding, Schizophrenia, an Eating Disorder, or many other mental illnesses.
I have been asked many times by families how to get help for somebody who needs help but is unwilling or unable to accept it. This is a very difficult problem and unfortunately the answer is not what people want to hear. Connecticut, like most states, places a premium on individual rights. A person can be treated without their consent only if they are dangerous to self or others or so gravely disabled that they are at risk. These laws are interpreted very strictly so that somebody can be quite ill but not meet the criteria for gravely disabled. If somebody meets the criteria they can be committed to a hospital for care. Every part of the state has a mobile crisis team which can come out and evaluate somebody where they are to see if they meet the criteria. The police can also be called and if they think somebody is at risk, they can bring them to a hospital for an evaluation. Connecticut has no outpatient commitment laws, meaning that once somebody is stable they will be released from the hospital and can once again refuse help. The average stay at a hospital is less than 7 days. Thus, this is not a solution.
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Concerned family members are not without power. The love and caring that exists might convince somebody to do it for you. Whether it is nagging, cajoling, or outright bribery; families have gotten their loved ones the help that they need.
If that doesn’t work, you still have things that you can do. You are probably providing a lot of support for the person who his ill. This support may be in the form of money, or transportation, or they may be living with you. For example you might tell someone that getting treatment is the rent that they have to pay you for living here.
If that doesn’t work, there are other things that you might try which could include withdrawing your help and support unless they get help. This might make the person angry and could affect your relationship with them, but it might be worth it because without help the person will only continue to get worse.
The bottom line is that treatment is voluntary and that if someone refuses all of your efforts to get help, you need to understand that you did not cause the illness and can’t fix it. Sometimes the hardest thing to do when confronted with this situation is to accept the fact that you are powerless to help. Part of being able to do this is to learn as much as you can about the person’s illness so that you understand their world. You need to understand why somebody is doing the things that they do. You need to know that it is part of the illness and not something done to hurt you. You need to be able to let go of wanting to help and yet be ready to be supportive when and if they become ready. It is hard to watch somebody you love make bad choices, but that is the reality.