Your loved one is struggling with a mental health issue. You’re pretty sure medication can help them feel better, but they won’t take it. What can you do?
Remember it’s their decision
Keep in mind that your role as a caregiver is to support them in their recovery—not to “fix” them yourself. Any type of mental health treatment, including medication, works best if the person being treated is on board. Trying to force medication on someone who doesn’t want to take it is not going to be a very good experience for either of you.
Medication is just one type of mental health treatment. There are many others that work just as well, if not better. Most people benefit from a combination of several different treatments. The best way to help your loved one is to consider medication as just one piece of the puzzle.
First, consider the reasons why they don’t want to take meds. Then, consider how to address their concerns—including exploring other options.
Why don’t they want to take medication?
As a caregiver, medication can seem like the perfect fix for your loved one’s problems: it’s backed by science, it’s relatively simple (just take a pill every day), and the results seem more predictable than some of the alternatives. But there are lots of reasons why many people don’t like taking medications:
- They might have a hard time remembering to take a pill at the same time every day.
- Some people just hate swallowing pills.
- They might worry that taking a medication is the “easy way out” or that it feels “unnatural” compared to other treatments, like therapy or herbal supplements.
- Medications have side effects. Sometimes those side effects are invisible to other people: maybe the medication stops the behaviors that scare you, but it makes them feel empty inside. Even if the medication treats their symptoms well, the side effects may be unbearable.
Before you start thinking of comebacks, put yourself in their shoes. Think about how you might feel being dependent on medication just to feel normal. (Of course, taking medication is nothing to be ashamed of, but your loved one might not be ready to see it that way just yet.) When you’re talking to them about possible solutions, be sure to acknowledge their concerns and express empathy and understanding.
Some of the concerns listed above are solvable. For example, you can help them get a pill counter and download an app to help remind them to take their meds every day. Or you can help them do some research about mental health meds so they feel more comfortable with the idea of taking them.
Solving the problem of side effects is more difficult. If this is the only medication they’ve tried, you might encourage them to try different medications and see if they can find one that works better. This process can be frustrating, and long—it can take months or even years to find something that works. So be sure to provide support in other ways as they’re going through it.
But maybe they’ve tried a lot of different medications, and none of them have worked. For most people, medication is just one of many options. You might be convinced that medication is the way to go, but remember: your role is to support them, not to make decisions for them. (Bonus: if you are supportive, they’ll be more likely to reconsider your advice about taking meds later.)
Helping them explore other options
Educate yourself about other treatment options. Most mental illnesses can be treated by some combination of lifestyle changes and therapy. There are things your loved one can do on their own, without needing to rely on a professional. Help them come up with ideas. Follow up to see if they’ve tried any of them, and ask about how well they worked. Be patient, and respect their decisions.
No matter what ends up working, the process will take time. Help them come up with a crisis plan in case things worse.