Why So Many People Fail To Seek Help

We see it all the time – coworkers, family, friends, even strangers – struggling with mental illness and addiction, yet they’re not seeking help. Why is this? For those of us whose hearts weigh heavy for these individuals, it can be devastating to feel like they’re out of arm’s reach. We may have tried talking to them, only to be told that they’re “fine” or that they don’t need help – but as an outsider looking in, we can see that they do. It’s painful, and can even bring up a host of other feelings – anxiety, depression, anger, blame and more.

Why don’t they seek help?” “Why are they lying to me about how they’re feeling?” “Why don’t they take my advice seriously?”

There are many reasons why a person chooses not to seek help for mental illness and addiction; ultimately, we have to realize that we can only do the best that we can.

The Epidemic

According to USA Today in 2016, one in seven Americans will struggle with addiction; the U.S. currently spends over $442 billion each year making up for the devastating impacts of addiction, and an American dies every 19 minutes from an opioid or heroin overdose. Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stated,

“We have to recognize (addiction) isn’t evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing. It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.”

Mental illness is also another major concern; depression is considered the number one cause of disability around the globe, yet less than half are actually seeking help for it. In fact, a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that about a third of people actually seek help. With so many lives at stake, and with so many repercussions to our economy, businesses, communities, relationships and wellbeing, why is it that so many people fail to seek help?

Reasons Why People Don’t Seek Help

It can feel so simple to ask a person to seek help, because from an outsider’s point of view, it is simple. Our loved one is struggling, so naturally they should seek help – but they may not see it that way. There are a number of factors that may play into a person’s decision not to seek help, such as:

  1.     They’re scared. It’s hard to take steps forward into the future when you can’t imagine what that future would look like. Many people who struggle with mental illness or addiction become afraid of taking the leap towards recovery – and that’s what’s holding them back.
  2.     Self-stigmatization. Society places so much stigma on addiction and mental illness. Addiction is often categorized as a “weakness” or a “personal moral failure,” while mental illness may be associated with being “crazy”. Unfortunately, these incredibly hurtful – and untrue – stigmas can be taken in and believed by a person if they’re not supported otherwise.
  3. They don’t see that they need help. It’s hard to believe that you need help when you don’t see a problem there, and sometimes individuals may feel they’ve got everything under control – even if they don’t.
  4. They know they need help, but they’re not ready to seek it out yet. This is a step towards seeking help, and continued support is needed to motivate a person to take that step and set up treatment.
  5. Distrust in treatment. This may also stem from stigma; those with addiction and/or mental illness may fear that they’ll be judged by their therapist and others in their healthcare team – and they’d rather avoid these potential situations by not seeking help.
  6. They believe they’ll never get better. Unfortunately, there are many people who believe that because of genetics, shame, trauma, etc., they’re never going to get better. In many cases, symptoms of mental illness can exacerbate these types of thoughts – which only make it more challenging for a person to take that step towards recovery.

How to Support a Loved One With Addiction/Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) highlights the importance of educating yourself on what your loved one’s going through. Attend support groups, such as Al-Anon, to connect with other friends and family members of loved ones who are struggling with addiction. When addiction is involved, it’s important that you continue to take steps towards your own mental, physical and spiritual health; exercise, eat healthy foods, continue surrounding yourself with strong support systems and make your self-care a top priority. Set boundaries for yourself so that your loved one’s addiction doesn’t weigh heavily on your day-to-day life, and don’t give up in promoting treatment for your loved one.

If you’re currently struggling with addiction and mental illness, don’t wait any longer to seek help. Speak with a professional from Burning Tree today – help is available, and you’re not alone.


Burning Tree West is a transitional college program dedicated to helping adults between the ages of 18 and 29 recover from addiction. Our campus is located in Tucson, Arizona, near the campuses of the University of Arizona and Pima Community College. Our program is designed to help young adults overcome addiction, build foundational life skills, and pursue their educational and career goals. Contact us today for more information.