What to Do When Your Loved One Doesn’t Want Help

 ADHD Weekly, August 3, 2023

Is your loved one skeptical that they may have ADHD and that their untreated symptoms are causing a rift in your relationship? If this is so, you may feel stuck and frustrated, wondering why they do not get help, especially if they really loved you. Asking your partner, family member, or friend to see an ADHD professional for an evaluation takes courage. This suggestion or request is sometimes not well received. Understanding the reasons why your loved one is reluctant to seek treatment can help you better navigate your relationship and be able to voice your concerns in a neutral way.

Denial or diagnosis?

It may seem like your loved one is purposely denying that they have symptoms of ADHD. The situation is more nuanced, says Gina Pera, author of “Is It You, Me, or Adult ADD? Stopping the Roller Coaster When Someone You Love Has Attention Deficit Disorder.”

What may look like denial could be a result of “misperceptions about ADHD and stigma issues, along with defenses built up around receiving lifelong criticism,” and that “some adults, however, obliviously sail on, missing the connection between their dysfunctional behavior and dysfunctional work situations, relationships, and finances,” she says.

In other words, your loved one may not want to deal with their symptoms because they have received judgement from others in their past. Or, they may not be able to connect how their actions have caused problems at work, school, or home. Common symptoms of ADHD such as poor working memory, an inability to connect past actions with today’s hardships, and poor self-reflection may be among the reasons your loved one cannot see problems and has not sought help.

Avoid judgement

How can you help your loved one get past their reluctance to address symptoms or help them see that these symptoms are causing problems in their life? A good first step is to learn more about your loved one’s experiences by allowing them to express their thoughts in a space that is free from judgement, says Zara Harris, MS, OT. Ms. Harris is the deputy chair of CHADD’s editorial advisory board and a pediatric occupational therapist licensed in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

“In these times of skepticism about many things scientific, let us listen to the nonbelievers, give them nonjudgmental language to discuss their observations, and then use their experiences to bring them around to finding ways to help change the behaviors that they would like to change,” she says.

Listening to your partner’s experiences is an important step towards improving your relationship. Listening instead of judging can help your partner move out of defensive mode and allow them space to look at how their symptoms are problematic.

Remember that you are not trying to get your loved one to see it your way or do things you want them to do. Instead, try talking with your loved one about specific behaviors that are causing them difficulty. For instance, you may want to help your loved one make the connection between staying up late at night and getting to work on time. Remove any judgement from the conversation and focus on the symptoms or behaviors only.

You can shift the focus from pointing your finger at your loved one to speaking about how their actions make you feel, according to Ms. Pera. If your loved one drives erratically, instead of saying “You drive horribly,” Ms. Pera suggests reframing by saying, “When you drive fast, I feel really nervous. Maybe it’s my problem, but it really makes me sick to my stomach.”

In this way, you remove blame and shift the focus to how their actions make you feel. This is a neutral way to talk about behaviors that are causing problems instead of making your loved one feel defensive.

Ms. Pera also recommends keeping the focus on behaviors and not labelling the behaviors as ADHD. If your loved one does not feel their actions are related to ADHD, it is okay to let go of the label if the focus stays on finding help for problematic behaviors, she says.

It is okay too if your loved one does not want to seek treatment right away for their ADHD, says Arthur Robin, PhD. Dr. Robin is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics at Wayne State University in Detroit. Dr. Robin provides some suggestions when talking with your loved one:

  • Do not try to argue them into seeking treatment.
  • Be loving, kind and gentle. Praise their positive qualities.
  • Gently guide them to come up with goals for change in their life.
  • See if they are open to counseling or therapy to work on these goals.

He suggests looking for a therapist that lists motivational interviewing as a specialty.

“This type of therapy,” Dr. Robin says, “helps people who resist making changes examine themselves and sometimes successfully overcome their resistance to change without it being ADHD treatment.”

Further Reading:

Join the conversation: How have you encouraged a loved one to address their ADHD symptoms?