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Denial is a Powerful Impediment to Treatment

Many people are still turned off by seeking help for a mental health concern, like depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD, an eating issue, or anxiety. While a man will think nothing nowadays of asking his doctor for a prescription of Viagra to help him sexually perform better, that same man will often turn to alcohol or denial to deal with his depression. A woman will go for her annual pap smear to guard against cancer, but refuses to acknowledge that eating has become an emotional issue rather than just about nutrition.

Why do people still refuse to get help for these concerns when help is so readily and easily available? The answers may surprise you.

You Can’t Get Help Until You Want Help

It may seem like an obvious observation that a person can’t always be helped until they first acknowledge the need for help. But many people are stuck in a stage of not acknowledging the problem is a problem.

People call this kind of being stuck, “denial,” because the individual is simply denying – either consciously or sometimes unconsciously – that a problem even exists. “Oh, I’m not depressed, I just haven’t been getting enough sleep lately,” even though the “not getting enough sleep” excuse has been batted around in the person’s head for 4 months now. “Oh, I wasn’t manic, I just felt like I had a lot of energy and could get things done finally,” even though none of the projects was ever finished and the energy has long since warn off, giving way to depression.

Denial of a problem is a common reason people don’t seek treatment for it. Without accepting that a problem even exists, we can’t get help for it. Just as we are often our own worst critics, people are also sometimes the opposite – the last to admit their own shortcomings or failings.

Obviously She’s in Denial – Why Doesn’t She See it?

Why are people in denial when the problem is so obvious to everyone around them?

There are many reasons why denial is a common coping mechanism used by people. One is that, despite it ultimately not being beneficial to the person using it, it does work to some degree. It allows the person to continue to function in daily life, even if they are not always functioning well.

Second, a person may have been brought up and taught that denial was the way a person dealt with irrational feelings or unsavory behaviors. We are the products of our upbringing, whether we admit it or not. Those behaviors can be unlearned, but it takes time and often, professional assistance (e.g., a therapist).

Third, sometimes a person can’t always see things objectively when it comes to their own behaviors and feelings. For instance, when we are in love, we irrationally believe our loved one can do no wrong and the world revolves around that person. Objectively, nothing has changed in your life except that you’ve found someone to share your life with. Your loved one is still a human being, will still make mistakes, and can do wrong.

Denial is a Powerful Impediment to Treatment

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is an author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2020). Denial is a Powerful Impediment to Treatment. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 12, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.