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Mar 7

Am I “Sick Enough” to Get Treatment?

Ever delayed treatment or denied that you need it on the basis that you’re not “sick enough?” You’re not alone. This is common among people with mental illnesses–especially eating disorders or other illnesses that damage your image of yourself. But putting it off because you don’t fit your own image of “real” sickness may be causing you unnecessary harm.

Why would anyone want to feel worse?

People with mental illnesses, physical or mental disorders, or other psychological problems may struggle with feeling “sick enough” to seek treatment. Especially with media portrayals or with the more dramatic stories of mental illnesses like eating disorders, milder or different symptoms–or different stories–can feel invalid, or not worthy of more serious treatment. This is especially true of eating disorders. Or, stigmas in our society about attention seeking, or the cost of insurance, may deter others with different illnesses that still require treatment.

Sometimes, illnesses are a handy crutch. Part of you wants to keep those dangerous or self-destructive behaviors on-hand. This isn’t necessarily because we like hurting ourselves; it’s because whether it’s anxiety or an eating disorder, there’s some part of these illnesses that feels like protection. It might keep you from facing overwhelming situations on a regular basis. It might help you hide from the difficulties of day-to-day life. Or, it might feel like a safe way to express past pain or anger.

Finally, perhaps the viewpoints of others contribute to this way of thinking. Especially if you don’t “look” or “act” a certain way, peers, friends, and family might not think you require some forms of treatment. However, you must remember that this reaction may come from disbelief or helplessness on their part, and is not a reflection on you.

Not “sick enough” for treatment?

Ask yourself why you have to get worse before you can get better. People who are well, who don’t need serious treatment, don’t want to get worse. So, if you really want to recover from your illness, you must challenge this thought. Your life and your health may depend on it.

If you struggle with getting treatment, ask yourself what crutch you’re leaning on. What is your illness doing for you that keeps you getting rid of it? Or, what are you afraid of happening if you didn’t have this illness? You may find that your illness makes promises it can’t keep, and that you’re better off treating it.

Every mental illness is valid, and deserves treatment. This is true even if:

  • You don’t look or act like a media representation of your illness
    • For example, if you have an eating disorder, you’ve never been underweight
  • You can function on a day-to-day basis
  • Your friends or family aren’t aware of your illness
  • You don’t have a dramatic, “rock bottom” story about your illness
  • You have never visited a therapist
  • Existing treatment or therapy is going well
  • You are a different gender/age/race/class/identity from common portrayals of your illness

Remind yourself that you will never be “sick enough” when your illness damages how you view yourself. Trying to put off treatment is a sign that you may need it more than ever.

If you still struggle with not feeling “sick enough,” remember that you are sick. You have an illness. You are also enough. And that is reason enough to seek treatment. Be brave and reach out now.