Do People Want You To Stay Mentally Ill?

June 3, 2013 Natasha Tracy

While it seems hard to believe, some people want others to stay mentally ill and, indeed, sometimes even individuals themselves, choosing to maintain mental unwellness. You have the obvious example of people refusing medication and thus becoming very sick but there are other forces as well that can encourage a person to stay acutely, mentally ill.

People Who Want to Remain Mentally Ill

It’s pretty much unthinkable to me that someone would want to remain mentally ill, but it’s true, some people do. For me, when I’m acutely unwell it comes with such suffering that I can’t imagine not being treated for it, but such is not the same for everyone. Some people with bipolar, for example, would rather have the bouts of pain, which may not be as long or as severe, if they also have the bouts of mania or hypomania. Maybe they’re an artist and they feel more creative in a manic phase. Well, that’s their prerogative, I suppose.

Others Who Want People to Remain Mentally Ill

But what is perhaps very sneaky and decidedly damaging is the message we get from others that we “should” remain mentally ill. That we shouldn’t take our medication. That we should embrace the suffering that is mental illness.

Why Would Anyone Want to Sabotage Us Like That?

Well, there are multiple reasons. First, there are others with a mental illness who cannot deal with their own struggles and admitting that we have a mental illness that needs treatment implies that they do too, and they can’t handle that reality. This is just sad all over the place.

Others may “like” us more when we’re ill. People may think we’re the life of the party while manic and don’t see the suffering that comes with it. This is selfish, of course, on the part of the others.

Still others may not be able to accept our mental illness and thus don’t want us to get treatment as it would be like admitting there is a problem. Or maybe they fundamentally disagree with medication and treatment and expect us to share the same viewpoint. (By the way, it’s really easy to fundamentally disagree with a treatment you don’t need.) Again, this is selfish point of view.

None of these people have our best interests at heart. None of these people are thinking about us. All of these people are just thinking of themselves and their own hang-ups. Of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t exert pressure and that doesn’t mean that pressure can’t get to us.

What To Do About People Who Want Us To Remain Ill

Honestly? I would tell them to, um, flake off. Like, seriously. If he or she is going to act so ignorantly and selfishly I have no time for him. I feel sorry that he can’t put someone else’s wellbeing in perspective.

But if I was really tied to that person I might try educating him. I think the idea that you would encourage a person to remain ill is the result of a lack of knowledge about what it’s really like to be ill. If someone thinks I’m just “down” sometimes and “up” other times then seeking (often painful) treatments doesn’t make as much sense. But if the person understands the kind of suffering that goes along with mental illness then he may begin to understand the need for treatment.

And education is relatively easy with the internet streaming into everyone’s homes. Just show him sites and articles that you think speak to what mental illness is. Or better yet, print out articles that make the most sense and hand them to the individual. (HealthyPlace has a myriad of articles on bipolar disorder. I wrote most of them.)

I know I harp on and on about education for ourselves and others but I really do think it solves many problems. I do believe the path to enlightenment and support begins with learning. And if the person still doesn’t support your need for treatment? Then you probably need to separate yourself from that person until you are strong enough to stand up to him. It’s sad, but try to remember that the pressure he’s exerting isn’t healthy for you and your health has to come first – no matter what ridiculous things other people want.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, June 3). Do People Want You To Stay Mentally Ill?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 15 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Monica Thompson
June, 3 2013 at 6:00 am

My family use to think I didn't need medication...I came apart for the first time when living away and they had never seen me bad. There was a mess up at my clinic last year and I didn't have any meds for 2 weeks. It took about 3 months to get stable again, and no one has questioned my need for meds since. Pretty severe way to teach them, and I don't recommend in, but it worked.

June, 3 2013 at 7:31 am

I was just talking about this very subject with my therapist today. I have people in my family who are against medication. They are always telling me that maybe I don't need medication. Then it gets me thinking that maybe they know better then me, but luckily my husband is there, making sure that I don't stop my meds. I try not to talk to these people about how I'm feeling or about my meds. It's sad that I can't really talk to them but I have to come first right now.

Sandy Schairer
June, 3 2013 at 11:23 am

I would take any kind of meds or treatments if the psychiatrist told me it would help. I wasn't diagnosed until I was in my 60's and I suffered from Bipolar II all those years because no one would listen to me when I said I was depressed. I would rather be dead than go back to that severe depression I had. People who refuse to takes meds wouldn't advise a diabetic not to take insulin so why resist meds for Bipolar which is also a bodily malfunction. My therapist says there's a physical component and the meds fill the need of what's missing. I believe that the people who are severely mentally ill, don't recognize that they are. Sad. I'm so grateful I was diagnosed with something that could be treated.

Joan Clare
June, 3 2013 at 10:48 pm

I'm beginning to think bipolar is the donut hole of mental illnesses. Doctors and such, especially therapists, like the "easy" cases like neurotic personalities. P-Docs are more acquainted with severe psychoses, but bipolar falls into a donut hole of psych meds between the the two. So the reverse is also true, too much, not enough, too involved, not involved enough, all the way to, "you are now on your own. We don't understand, we can't take it, enough!". Then you hit the "donut hole".
By the way, "Breaking Bipolar" Rocks. I love this blog!

June, 4 2013 at 7:11 am

Sometimes the meds don't help and it's obvious on the outside. When your best friend, who used to be creative and had spark albeit was troubled fades before your eyes. Meds "work" so well she doesn't care she fails in school and everything is drifting from her. It's scary to see body of your friend moving around without their soul in there (yes, I know somebody will say how it's their "illness" not medication doing this. I don't believe it... if the meds work so well, this obviously wouldn't happen).
I wouldn't tell person for whom medical treatment is more or less working to drop it. But if they visibly HATE the effect of drugs on them and nothing seems to be working, then I encourage them to discover options outside of the mainstream model. Often it works.
In addition... I don't see that many people outthere saying "stay ill". Of course, some don't believe in illness concept, but it's not even "stay troubled". Most common idea among those who aren't pro-psych is "find your way to feel better". Maybe some people don't think your cycles have to be flattened... but that's not the same as "stay ill". It's more of "learn to live and thrive with wide range of emotions" and "learn to cope with the symptoms".
Nobody wants to "remain ill" either. PEOPLE JUST DON'T SEE THEIR EXPERIENCE AS "ILLNESS". And it's not denial... it's just an opossing philosophy to the one expressed here. If it works for some... why not look deeper into it... rather then try to force other to go by model that is clearly not working for some who promote it?

June, 5 2013 at 6:49 am


June, 5 2013 at 8:39 am

i think that it can be true to an extent but there is the problem with some people have fear of their medication. and speaking from experiences it can stem from some of the doctors not explaining or listening to their patients. i mean i have not seen my psychiatrist in over 12 months and all i have been told is that they will send out an appointment. but what i am saying its not that people wont to be ill it is the fear of change and not having the support there

June, 5 2013 at 5:55 pm

Some people don't want others to get better because they are co-dependent and need to take care of others to feel good themselves. If the mentally ill person gets better, then their "caretaker" isn't needed anymore. They need to feel needed by others who are ill.

Laurie Morgan
June, 5 2013 at 6:10 pm

Hello. I recently found your website. I do have a disability. I am an artist and creative writer and poet and a few other things. I like to work. I believe disabled peoples are NOT the ‘label.’ I hope and desire disabled to become more inclusive in our world. I love meditation and hold a space for disabled to blossom and also receive the healing from cruel and harsh social situations, injustices done, and many other unfortunate experiences which many times disabled with mental illness are used as the excuse to blame when things get tough. I value honesty and encouraging all disabled in finding what/the kind of support which may truely benefit them. I am grateful you are a supportive place for some disabled. I look forward to your website. Laurie

June, 5 2013 at 7:37 pm

I want to say I agree with VenusH's post. I find it a bit insulting when you say that patients who refuse to take medications *want* to continue being mentally ill. I've been on many different medications, and they all have side effects. Some I couldn't live with, so I talked to my pdoc and we tried other things.
There are also risks associated with these meds, some we may not know until we're older, and while some people might feel it's worth the risk, not all of us do. It's not unreasonable to refuse something that might lead or contribute to heart or liver disease. To say the person would rather be ill is malarkey. Sometimes it's hard to choose between one form of suffering and another.
Artists and writers sometimes find their creativity and motivation dulls on meds. Being creative is a major aspect of one's personality, and most identify themselves by their talents.
I'm on medications, but my physician wants me to go off a couple of them (under supervision of my pdoc), because they contribute to my sugar cravings and obesity. These meds are known to possibly raise blood sugar and can lead to diabetes, which is what I'm trying to avoid.
Some people find no meds seem to work, or work well. I'm still suffering, but I'm worse off meds, so I continue to take what works. I'm always hoping for some new, revolutionary treatment (or dare I hope for a cure?), but again, there are always side effects. Sexual side effects and tremors can become permanent, even if you go off the meds. You can sing the praises of meds, but they're not ambrosia.

June, 5 2013 at 8:20 pm

in the state i am in i found relieving the fact that there are other people too who have experienced this attitude on the part of others. i am not sure if people around us want us to remain ill. they just don't want to be bothered with others' problems. i feel that often people want to have the first part in the play and the rest of us are just the audience. when these roles are reversed, here comes trouble! because people are so selfish and narcissistic that they are not willing to stay close to you by your side and let you discover the shine and way to life as it should be. there are also others who just find it hard to be supportive and it is very cruel when these others are your friends(?) or your closest family. i wish i could find the way to peace with myself.

June, 6 2013 at 10:22 am

My "Family" wants me to stay mentally ill, so that they can "judge" me. They won't go to the extent of trying to interfere with me seeing a dr. or taking meds, because my sister LOVES me having that "label". It makes her feel better about herself that I am mentally ill and have to take medication, even though she is just undiagnosed and self medicates heavily with alcohol. My family does not put in any effort to try to educate themselves, understand me or my illness, or try to support me in any way. They just throw it in my face and put me down.

June, 8 2013 at 5:16 am

I know of someone who wants to remain where she is and not seek further treatment or get a new diagnosis. We suspect s/he has borderline personality disorder on top of PTSD. Because she is emotionally unstable, when she "acts up" (for lack of a better word) she gets attention.
I'm not suggesting that she refuses on purpose. She may or she may do it subconsciously because I don't know if she is aware that something else is going on besides what she knows she has.
Unfortunately, the attention she gets is the wrong kind. Her emotional instability and lack of regard for boundaries garners her negative attention. Relationships with her family have suffered greatly and she has very few friends.

david webster
June, 10 2013 at 10:33 pm

Kind AND challenging posting, Natasha. Thank you to posters-- thoughtful and from the heart.
1) having been on depakoate @ two points until side effects outweighed gains, it's a cost benefit analysis. Research says that psych meds not taken at exactly same rate as any other strong med is not taken. Normal.
2) Also normal for humans to shoot themselves in the foot in so many ways. A joy of getting older and learning-- less self-destruction. In context of what others around us want (said above) AND of abuse/neglect. We speak in deeper reality if we are trauma informed; see ACE study for science, we all know/are affected by trauma-- doesn't fade easily.
3) had a friend say, "don't take away my PTSD" because it was economic source of SSDI (or veterans') benefits. Look at surge in kids with diagnoses-- diagnoses pay. Sorry. Sad.

Michael Roberts
June, 11 2013 at 1:46 am

Some people make a career of being distressed. That can attract a lot of attention and has a get out clause when a responsibility looms.
Others may want a person to stay medicated as they are easier to manage that way. Continued medication suits the 'carers' but damages distressed person.
Having a population of people in need of 'treatment' keeps many professionals and industries making a career and money.
Wanting to be well can bring a lot of pain, work and responsibility. I can understand why some would choose to avoid that.
Some have been convinced by 'experts' that they can never get better and so they give up on trying.

June, 19 2013 at 9:21 pm

Some people are opportunistic and enjoy fanning the flames of an obviously bad situation. Some people are just simply ignorant and unknowingly do things that, again, fan the flames of a bad situation. In both cases, a need to label "it" a certain way, or judge a person incorrectly is probably a way for them to write off their bad treatment of that person and avoid that uncomfortable feeling of remorse or guilt. I've seen that happen many times, and not just towards people with mental illness, but with other disabilities as well. I worked with autistic kids and have seen people make fun of them, only to find out that the kid they were making fun of is autistic. They casually laughed it off when I "educated" them.
I like that this article encourages educating others, but realistically, it is tiring to do this, knowing that the other party is too unreceptive to be enlightened.
I can forgive ignorance, but someone who purposely provokes a person who is disabled or in distress is abhorrent to me. I have to wonder about their view of the world, causing them to be "ok" with such bad treatment of others and doing whatever they can to confirm and validate it - even if it means they have to go to extreme and unethical ways to do this.

June, 19 2013 at 9:45 pm

I don't think anyone ever wants to be ill - mentally or physically. How did this come up?
I think acceptance of an illness - any illness - is hard. Commenters on this brought up some good points as well. Some people aren't aware of their illness until something brings it to light - like in my case, a switch to a manic episode due to antidepressants. Boy, was I angry about this, but I can't really fault the doctor. They were treating what looked like depression afterall. If places were switched I might have made the same mistake as well. But the trouble that followed...

June, 19 2013 at 11:33 pm

i live in australia in the state of south australia. here, i've got them to admit it that it's legitimate to misdiagnose a victim of paedophile abuse as having an organic mental illness they don't have provided their presentation can be made to fit the criteria in the DSM. the government and allied health services do that here, the purpose being, that with a diagnosis, victims can be detained and are discredited so they can't testify against the offenders, who are everywhere.
i've beaten the organic rap these days, for the moment anyway, although it's taken me many years and so much heartache, so many people harmed along the way by the system here. but in my head, the anxiety, the depression, the futility and stuff, it's hard, like i'm always afraid of being harmed or got at, but i can't get any support or help with that. seriously, the police stop the mental health services from approaching me these days, that's a relief.

Jacque Elder
March, 29 2014 at 8:01 pm

Let's start with medication compliance. If every social workerm therapist, nurse, shrink, primary care doc, etc would spend 4 weeks on most of the medications that are used experimentally on us, I think they would very much understand that the adverse side effects are very bad and plus, most anti-depressants just don't work. They have a strong placebo effect yet in clinical trials, only about 20% have valid outcomes. In the psych field, everything is focused on these meds and you are led to believe that if you go off them, YOU WILL Die.
Now, that could happen. I have had many unfortunate suicide attempts yet the medication never seemed to work much.
When I was having a series of Major Depressive Disorders, I was so crazy that people chose not to be around me. That was painful as depression is a disorder of isolation and I really wanted some company. Just some company, Many people thought I was malingering and faking, they would deny my suicide attempts ("If you really wanted to die, you would have gotten it right the first time." my sister told me). I was stuck in the Black Hole and I did not know how to get out 6 months of residential treatment helped a great deal.
It was not until this last 18 months where I can see myself choosing the old reactions of being mentally ill for sympathy or whatever. I see and hear myself do it and I have to stay focused on the increasingly good things that are happening in my life. It was so bad at one point that many good things were going on and I could not see one of them. Not one. It has been hard work bringing myself out of the negative microscopic thinking.
My experience is that people really don't want to be around very depressed and actively suicidal people. After 4 years now, I still feel like I have the cooties. My family has not spoken to me once for over 3 years. To make all this much worse, I am a psychologist and my falling apart all took place quite publicly. My colleagues who I thought would be compassionate have been the biggest assholes I have met. It has made me wonder whether I want to remain a therapist with clinicians like this.
Most of the time, my children and few good friends really want me to be well and happy. They still all worry about me and I worry about me. I had an attempt right before Xmas. When will this end and yet I believe I make choices that help end it. I have to stay away from negative folks, I had to change jobs, I watch funny shows (30 Rock!), blah, blah.
The pharmaceutical industry and psychiatry have a huge huge investment in us remaining sick. We are their paying consumers. They don't want to lose us yet I just don't buy into "one must take their meds". There are exceptions such as Lithium, atypical antipsychotics, etc.
Ultimately, I think we would benefit the most from fresh air and sunshine.
Love to you all.
Jacque Elder

March, 31 2014 at 11:12 am

I agree with nearly everything you said. When I was having problems from drug side effects and constantly unstable, clinicians slapped a borderline label on me in addition to the bipolar, or just said it was the bipolar getting worse, and many treated me horribly. Most of the behaviors gradually disappeared when I gave up with those "meds" that I just call drugs now, and I think they are mostly scam (I think it is a tiny minority of people who are functioning better on these drugs)
Unless you were referring to the risks of drug withdrawal from coldy turkeying, re: lithium and atypicals, plenty of psychiatrists who blog don't want most bipolar patients on atypical antipsychotics and would like them to taper off ASAP. The director of the NIMH, Tom Insel, recently admitted that people with schizophrenia often do better off those drugs, too, but nobody will spread the message more publically because everyone thinks it will be like folks cold turkeyed and think they will all flip out.

March, 31 2014 at 11:15 am

Oh, and PS, I'm really sorry what you have gone thru.

March, 31 2014 at 11:33 am

Sorry to make multiple posts here, but it gets my dander up when folks say a person wants to stay ill or is irresponsible if they don't "take their meds." Do the drugs work for the person well enough to be worth it? That's THEIR call to make, and a decision to NOT take drugs for bipolar can be as responsible as a decision to take them.
Every psychiatrist I have ever had in the past 10 years inpatient or outpatient says the drugs are not all that effective for many people and that the drugs can be worse than the illness, and that people relapse on meds and off meds and that when someone cold turkeys off meds, they are likely in drug withdrawal and it isn't necessarily the illness coming back. And so on. There is the official statements that places like NAMI put out, and then there is what psychiatrists tell you personally. A lot of psychiatrists who blog say the same things I was personally told by my providers, who were mainstream doctors (not fringe psychiatrists that I sought out). This message that a person with bipolar MUST take drugs no matter what, even if the drugs don't work or don't work well enough to be worth the side effects and health harms - who put that message out? Not most psychiatrists! Not any that I have ever seen over the past many years, inpatient and outpatient. It is big pharma who put that message out there, and btw, NAMI gets nearly all their funding from big pharma. In recent years, as it comes out how much big pharma seeded the journals with fake research, psychiatrists have been much less sure of what they say. And as someone else mentioned, I also think some of these drugs are soul-suckers, and the person taking the drugs may be so impaired they can't tell what has happened. I blame antipsychotics for this. They did it to me for many years, and didn't help the depression one bit either, but I believed NAMI and kept taking that crap. Unfortunately, there are ZERO alternatives to drugs for bipolar because society thinks we are dangerous axe murderers and don't deserve better treatment than antipsychotics. (I would take lithium again for severe mania, but ha ha, that is a naturally occurring salt and no motive for anyone to promote that)

April, 24 2015 at 12:22 am

I find John's comments (see above) very interesting.
The first time I was involuntarily committed to hospital was because of a breakdown caused by a lack of support, mostly from family members, who did not want to believe me when I told them I was molested by my step father. They tried and successfully succeeded in literally driving me crazy to shut me up. I remember throwing my hands up in the air with tears streaming down my face saying, there now, are you satisfied, you won, because now there is no way anyone is ever gonna believe me. I've been labeled mentally ill and after all who is gonna believe a crazy person... I was so heavily medicated I felt completely helpless, scared and alone. (I'm not saying that maybe there weren't other things going on as well in conjunction to all this. But because my biological mother committed suicide it was automatically assumed I was genetically predispositioned to be crazy which didn't help my case.) My adoptive mother was co-dependant/financially dependent on my step-father. My brother told me he still liked my step father even after I told him what he'd done. They had simular personalities. Our adoptive father was bisexual so my heterosexual brother did not want to identify with our bisexual dad and chose to identify with our child molesting stepfather instead. Only after my brothers own daughter was molested by her step father did he softened his views. My adoptive father who at first seemed supportive and my step father are brothers and hated each other which didn't help either. Families can be so complex, can't they....
So back to John's comments (see above) I seemed to have the cards stacked against me. Because I'm on such low doses of medication I often wonder if my moods are truly caused by a mental illness or are they simply the result of environmental factors. Because of a learned helplessness resulting from past abuse have I just given up and begun accepting my fate believing that difficult situations will always be beyond my control? Some days I seem to think so, other days not. The medication has definately helped to calm me, but I also have less energy now than I ever did before and with each successive hospitalization a little bit more of me dies...

Lady behind the Mask
September, 18 2015 at 1:49 pm

I resonate with the person whose family needed her to be sick so they wouldn't have to look at themselves. I have been the "identified patient" for years. Then my husband of 17 years told me he has all of his life wanted to be a girl. SuddenlyI have a reason to think he had good reason to make the world think I was crazy.

September, 19 2015 at 4:12 pm

I'm confused. Why on earth would anyone think that anyone who is properly diagnosed with bipolar disorder WANTS to be sick?? I'm very ill because of my BP symptoms. It is something I have to battle every single day. And you know what?? I would NEVER wish this illness on my worst enemy. For me, I am not even close to being "stable" when I don't take my medicines. I absolutely hate taking them but it is unfortunately necessary in my case. I was diagnosed with it only when I literally went off the rails and ended up in the hospital. It took time to get my meds right, but when it happened, I could at least function a bit and know where I was.
When my symptoms improved, of course I tried going off of my medications. Did that twice. Both times I ended up in the hospital. I have had 3 psychotic episodes, 2 of which happened after I ditched my meds. Now, as someone mentioned, I don't know if those symptoms were withdrawal symptoms or not. But I doubt it. Because even at the beginning, before I was on meds, I had those symptoms. My meds now are working well enough that I am not bat shit crazy.
Yes, my doc at times has encouraged me to take my meds but has never insisted that I would always need them. He's always said that some of my meds may just be needed long enough to stabilize me. And that has happened. There were times in my life that I went off a med because it was no longer needed.
And as for others wanting me to stay ill? Who? My husband who had to basically handle every single thing for me for long periods of time, including my son? My family really doesn't care at all, they just avoid me. And I no longer have friends.
Maybe some people want to remain ill, but it's beyond comprehension that they would. If they are truly ill with a MH disorder, they would never want to remain in that state. As for codependents and such, that's just sad. Please do not be selfish so that you can get the attention of a martyr. That's a life you are messing with and they could possibly feel so much better without your "care".
I'm not saying any of this can or cannot occur, I just wanted to speak to my point of view on this. But this is MY experience, not yours, and I'm not a doctor in any way. I just want to see people feel better, whatever that means for them.

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