Life has its ups and downs. With those downs, there will inevitably come hardships that you must face. Sometimes these will be minor inconveniences like misplacing your keys. Others will be more significant obstacles, such as being diagnosed with a mental health disorder.
If this happens to you, it can feel unfair or unmanageable. The weight of this new burden can feel like you’ve lost a part of who you are. Even if that part is simply the freedom of not having a mental health condition to worry about or manage. As with any loss, grief and the grieving process have an important role.
The First Stage of Grief: Denial
You are likely familiar with the stages of grief. Even if you can’t name them all, you are likely aware of the first stage, which is denial. As one of the most challenging stages of grief to conquer, denial is a common struggle for many dealing with a new mental health diagnosis. Denial is a complex topic with many different components. Some things that might contribute to your denial include:
- Rejecting the diagnosis
- Rationalizing the symptoms
- Normalizing or minimizing evidence
- The belief that others are wrong or projecting
These thoughts can keep you in the denial stage rather than moving forward in the grieving process. It may take facing irrefutable evidence to help you crack open that protective casing of denial. You may develop a severe symptom or consequence of your mental disorder. Ideally, you would overcome your denial before such detrimental outcomes occur, but that doesn’t always happen.
One of the most challenging aspects of denial is its subconscious nature. Even if everyone else can see your denial, it can be hard for you to see it. However, it is much more difficult for denial to persist when faced with concrete, tangible evidence. Knowing this, you can utilize some approaches that might help you break through your denial.
Make a List
Writing a physical list of your symptoms can help you face your denial. Even if you are aware of your symptoms, it can be easy to rationalize their existence as something unrelated to a disease. You might even try to normalize or minimize their severity. Writing them on paper can make their existence more concrete and harder to refute.
The same can be said about listing the potential negative consequences of your mental health condition if left untreated. You might not have given much thought to this before this exercise. Seeing such repercussions can be harrowing but also effective in breaking through denial. If you struggle with this list, you can ask someone close to you, a therapist, or your healthcare provider for help.
Ask for a Letter
Loved ones might previously have voiced their concern about your mental health condition. They may have even told you that you are in denial. Regardless of their intentions, this type of statement can feel accusatory and rarely results in an open, productive conversation. Instead, you might become defensive or ignore what they are saying. Even if you have a meaningful discussion, it can be difficult to process.
Instead of a conversation, try asking people to write you a letter expressing their concerns. Spoken words are intangible and can become lost in the emotion and discomfort of discussing such a personal topic. If your loved one writes you a letter, you can read this alone without distraction or distress. Each word is physically on paper, and this visibility and tangibility make it more difficult for you to avoid or deny their words.
See the Data
Your loved one can tell you that you need to start eating better because they are worried about your health. However, it’s often not until you see your elevated cholesterol levels that the reality of the situation sinks in. Sometimes it takes seeing the data to see the truth.
Your loved ones might’ve tried to bring such data to you, but it didn’t help. Sometimes those you are closest to might be who you have the most trouble believing. It can help to talk to a mental health professional who can objectively assess and review the data without bias.
Research the Diagnosis
One of the most significant contributors to denial about a mental health diagnosis is fear. With stigmas and misconceptions about mental health still plaguing society, it can be difficult to face the possibility of dealing with such obstacles. Researching and learning more about your specific condition can make it less abstract and daunting. It can also help disprove many of those negative, inaccurate stigmas and misconceptions.
Speak to Others
Denial can keep you from seeing your own reflection in the mirror. Meaning you might see your symptoms but not your disease. Sometimes it takes seeing yourself in someone with the same disease for the denial to break. Support groups for specific conditions can be useful sources for finding such people.
Reaching out and listening to people with the same disease can be helpful. You might relate to what you hear so profoundly that it becomes undeniably clear that you also have the same condition. Sometimes, knowing that there are others like you can soften that barrier of denial.
Denial of a mental health diagnosis is common and can prevent you from seeking treatment. While challenging to overcome, there are tools that can help you work through your denial and move forward in the grieving process. This is an essential step in coming to terms with your new mental health diagnosis.
The diagnosis of a new mental health condition often comes with grief. Denial can be one of the most challenging stages of grief to overcome. Having some tools to use can help you break through the denial and move forward in your treatment journey. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand how significant an obstacle denial can be when adjusting to life with a mental health condition. We aim to compassionately help our clients face their denial head-on and move forward in the grieving process. If you or a loved one are struggling with denial over a mental health condition, call us at (714) 942-4143 today to speak to a member of our team.