Denial and Mental Health: A Complete Overview

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Typically, when you’re in denial, you’re trying to protect yourself by refusing to accept the truth about something that’s happening in your life.

Even though denial is a coping mechanism to adjust to distressing situations, it can interfere with treatment or your ability to tackle challenges in the future.

In most cases, short term denial is a good thing to cope with a distressing issue, but it can become unhealthy.

This guide provides an overview of when denial becomes a bigger problem and how to move past it.

What is Denial?

Let’s say you experience stress, painful thoughts, threatening information or emotional conflict – not wanting to accept that something is wrong is a form of denial.

In other words, you can be in denial about anything that makes you feel vulnerable or things that threaten your self-control, such as illnesses or addictions

Usually, people in denial will not acknowledge a difficult situation, will not face the facts and downplay consequences.

When is Denial Helpful?

Sometimes, a short period of denial can be helpful to give your mind the opportunity to properly absorb distressing information.

Particularly, after experiencing trauma, you may need a few days, or even weeks, to come to terms with what’s just happened and process the challenges ahead.

For example, let’s say you’ve found a lump somewhere on your body – your initial panic may be that it’s cancer. Then, you ignore the lump with the hope that it will just go away, but if it’s still there a few days later, you’ll visit your doctor.

In this case, denial acts as a helpful response to stressful information; you first denied the situation, absorbed the possibility and took a rational approach by seeking help.

When is Denial Harmful?

Let’s take the same example from above – what if you didn’t accept the lump and continued to stay in denial? What could have happened if you didn’t seek help?

What we’re trying to say is, if denial prevents you from taking appropriate action, then it becomes a harmful response.

Other examples of harmful denial are:

  • Borrowing too much credit, resulting in debt and then refusing to open bills as you can’t bear to face reality
  • Parents of a teen with a drug addiction who keep giving their child money for “clothing”
  • Periodically missing work due to excessive drinking the night before, but insisting the work is getting done

And, these are just to name a few.

Ultimately, if denial stops you or loved ones from getting help and dealing with problems, it can result in devastating long term consequences.

How to Move Past Denial?

It’s important to remember – it’s OK to say “I can’t think about this now”.

Because, everyone processes information differently and sometimes we need to work through what’s just happened.

However, denial should only be a temporary measure as ultimately, it won’t change the reality of the situation.

At times, it isn’t easy to tell if denial is holding you back but if you do feel stuck, you can try the following:

  • Honestly self-examine what your fear is
  • Think carefully about what may happen if you don’t take action
  • Allow yourself to express your emotions
  • Write a journal on your experience 
  • Talk to someone you trust 
  • Participate in a support group 

Finishing Thoughts

Don’t worry, you don’t have to go through this alone.

So, when you find yourself stuck in the denial phase, consider speaking with your doctor to find healthy ways to cope, instead of pretending the problem doesn’t exist.

As long as you can identify when it’s becoming a problem, this is the first step in the road for recovery.

Please get in touch to find out more.

In the meantime check our Court of Protection Solicitor page.

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  3. 5 Tips on How to Help a Loved One With Mental Illness