Denial: Why People Don’t Get Treatment for Anxiety

– Posted in: Opinion

Up to 20 percent of the American public suffer from Anxiety, but only a small fraction seek treatment. That’s 60 million people in pain needlessly! 

Why do so many people avoid treatment? 

A man will think nothing about asking his doctor for a prescription for Viagra, but will often turn to alcohol or denial to deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

A woman will go in for her annual pap smear to guard against cancer, but refuses to acknowledge that her Social Anxiety Disorder is gradually shrinking her life into utter misery.

What is denial?

Denial is a concept introduced by Sigmund Freud. A person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it. Instead of dealing with it, they insist that it is not true despite what might be overwhelming evidence. 

Denial is a common human failing, seen in everything from procrastination to alcohol addiction to the first reaction to a death. A person can deny a fact, a responsibility, the impact of their Anxiety on themselves and others, or even deny they are stuck in denial at all! 

You can’t get help until you want help

It may seem obvious that a person can’t always be helped until they admit the need for help. But many people are self-imprisoned in a denial that they have problems that need to be addressed.

A person may say, “I didn’t want to go to that party anyway, ” when they know they are terrified of crowds and close spaces, symptoms of Agoraphobia

“Oh, I was just daydreaming and let my thoughts return to that rape. It’s nothing,” even though this flashback took more than a minute and caused them anguish, anger and fear.

Denial of a problem is a common reason people don’t seek treatment for it, even though they are suffering. Without accepting that a problem even exists, they can’t get help for it. Just as we are often our own worst critics, people are also sometimes the opposite — the last to admit their own shortcomings or failings.

Why is it that others can see your denial but you can’t?

There are many reasons why denial is a common coping mechanism:

  • Denial does work to some degree, despite its not being beneficial. It allows the person to continue to function, even though they are not functioning well.
  • A person may have been brought up to believe that denial was the way people deal with irrational feelings or bad behaviors. Society reinforces this attitude with comments such as, “Just snap out of it,” “Get a grip on yourself,” or “You’re not really sick, you just need to do …”
  • One can’t always see things objectively when it comes to their own behaviors and feelings. Their self-image and the facts of their lives do not match, so they hide behind denial.
  • A person believes that they’re just going through a rough spot and things will get better, even though they have suffered for years with anxiety and fear.
  • An individual believes that life is full of suffering, and their pain is just another example of it. It is a fatalist view of life.

How can a person overcome denial and get help?

There’s no single, easy method for helping a person overcome their denial of a problem like Panic Disorder or General Anxiety Disorder. The roots of denial are often buried deep within a person’s sense of who they are and how they were brought up to view themselves and the world. It can take a life-changing event to shake up a person’s denial. Or it can take the pressure exerted by friends and family to force them to seek treatment despite their denial.

Such an event can happen when a person’s spouse leaves them due to their Anxiety Disorder. It can happen when a person they know dies because they themselves denied their condition and committed suicide. It could be when one sees the depths of despair and emotional turmoil a friend or family member suffers, and resolve that they are not going to walk that same difficult, painful path. 

Or it could just be that a person finally gets so fed up with their Anxiety hurting meaningful parts of their lives that they decide they’re going to get treatment.

Denial can be overcome

Denial is something humans learn as a coping mechanism to deal with the problems of life, however ineffective it is. It becomes a habit, whether conscious or unconscious. But like other habits, it can be unlearned as well.

It is obvious that the best way to unlearn a behavior is to admit you are doing it and seek to change it. The best way to overcome denial is to admit that you have a problem and seek help. It takes both courage and humility to do so.

A mental health professional will help you learn better, more effective and healthier ways of coping with the issues and problems that arise in your life. You will learn how to deal with the object of your denial, not only in the near term, but for the rest of your life. It’s a simple process that can be done in just a few months’ time for most people who give it a try.

What do you think?

  • Has denial caused you or someone you know to delay treatment for a problem like Anxiety or a medical condition?
  • How has denial played a role in your life?

Please let me know! As always, your comments are welcome!

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Resources used in this post:

ChangingMinds. Denial. Retrieved June 28, 2007 from Web site:

Grohol, John. (2006, November 14). Denial is a Powerful Impediment to Treatment. Retrieved June 27, 2008 from Psych Central Web site:

Juan, Stephen. (2006, September 29). Why Are People So Often in Denial? Retrieved December 27, 2006 from The Register Web site:

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12 comments… add one
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kerrie November 23, 2011, 10:32 am

I think denial is a very powerful thing especially when it comes to anxiety and depression!!
iv been suffering for over 2 years now with anxiety attacks anxiousness and mild depression! It doesnt affect me every day but the days it does it is the most horrible over powering helpless feeling, its torture, like your mind is going to go then and there and you badly need help but the anxiousness stops you asking from it!! but then the days I feel perfect and fine I start to doubt how I felt the day befor thinking i was over reacting that it wasnt as bad as I thought and I can cope with it!! Its a vicous cycle and iv only reciently decided to do somthing about it!
I finally told my partner how I feel and that I need help so he is taking me to the Dr to get treatment!!
I am a little anxious about telling someone I dont know how I feel but it needs to be done!!!

Steve Bryant May 21, 2012, 8:47 pm

within 15 minutes of my wife being told she had approximately 2 years to live because of advanced colon cancer , she stated that her only focus was going to be surviving and her grand-daughter . We had just become grandparents . My wife was 47 . We had been happily together for 23 years . Her behavior toward me immediately became uninterested and uncaring . I couldn’t have a conversation with her without her suddenly finding focus elsewhere and having a normal conversation with anyone else . She’d ignore me altogether or simply leave , ( mentally ) , in the middle of whatever we had been discussing . She neglected housework and argued against me doing the normal ,everyday chores . Anything I said or tried to do to emotionally and lovingly get closer to the woman I loved was rebuffed . The house was going to hell and she insisted she had to go everything that I told her had to be moved or removed before I could take care of it . Our bedroom began filling with mail order clutter to the point where the path to my side of the bed required placing 1 foot in front of the other as it narrowed and kept getting higher . I almost fell off a ladder trying to access my closet because of the accumulation of clutter she had placed there . She refused to allow me to rearrange the area for safety reasons . We began arguing daily about that and when I asked her why she was treating me so indifferently , she denied doing so . She insisted that I quit coming to her chemo treatments and ignored me most of the day . She would enter a conversation with another person in the middle of our own . She only behaved this way with me and no one else was aware of any change in her . I believed she had suddenly decided she didn’t love me anymore and it was a marital issue between us so I didn’t alert the Doctor about it . I just didn’t know what I had done to make her decide she wasn’t in love with me any longer . After 15 months and with arguing becoming more frequent and heated I decided to move out of the house rather than fight my wife until she died . My adult son and daughter were living with us and there were 2 grand-daughters at the time so my wife was happy for that . Even though I had threatened to leave in order to stop the war , she accused me of leaving to chase women and party when I finally walked away . Neither of her accusations had ever been true but I think she believed it when she said it . That’s what she convinced our kids I was doing and her family , as well . We spoke or saw each other every day after that and I would often meet her at one of her scheduled appointments to be near . 27 months after her prognosis I had spent 19 days in the hospital with her as she fought off pneumonia , swine flu , and her weight was dropping a pound a day . When the Dr. told us that medical treatment was no longer working and the disease would have to follow it’s natural progression she asked for a feeding tube . When the Dr. said the social dept. had arranged for hospice to come talk to us about our needs in the house , my wife returned from where ever she had been and could recall nothing of our relationship during those 15 months of pushing me away . I appreciated having my wife back , but everyone , including her family , were left with the belief that I deserted my wife to chase other women and party . Although my wife repeatedly insisted that she wanted me to come home to be with her as I should’ve been , I was no longer a resident of my home and the hostility from everyone was extreme . I was attacked by 1 of my daughters friends and provoked to be physical with a friend of my son . I’m a former Marine Sergeant and Vietnam veteran . I don’t back down . The police were called twice during this process and I was given a no contact order from my daughter 10 days before my wife passed . Although I could’ve gotten a court order for the funeral and where she was finally laid to rest , I chose to allow for a peaceful ending instead of a confrontational one . Due process didn’t exist even though I had been a part of her family for 25 years . One last item . 5 minutes prior to leaving for an appointment at my V.A. hospital , ( 45 miles away ) , I received a text on my cell phone telling me my wife had died . I made my appointment on time . When it was suggested that I could’ve canceled because of my wife’s death , I simply said that when we were having a bad day in Vietnam , we didn’t call in to say we weren’t going to be coming in to work . I know my wife was suffering from an anxiety disorder now and it had nothing to do personally , with our relationship . She passed on Jan. 28 , 2010 but I lost her in Sept. 2007 when we heard the prognosis . I just recently contacted my wife’s mother by mail indicating that I wasn’t seeking forgiveness or vindication . But I wanted to let her know that there was more going on with her daughter than just the cancer . I told her what it was and concluded my final correspondence with my wife’s side . They’ll believe exactly what they want to and I’m o. k. with that . Thanks for letting me vent . Steve Bryant

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Kay October 1, 2015, 11:03 am

I am helplessly watching my husband spiral out of control. He had several major life changes that happened just before he had his first panic attack.
1.) he lost a job that paid $140k right as our new home was closing!
2.) this new home… Ya, we moved across the country…
3.) he was a new father. Our daughter was turning 1.
4.) we have a blended family with 4 children which is just plain stressful at times.
Anyway, he had a panic attack which he believed to be a heart attack and called the ambulance. He subsequently made 3 total ER visits thinking he was having heart problems. But each time after testing, wearing a heart monitor for several days etc. he was told he was having anxiety attacks. He saw his PCP and was put on meds. He took them for 3 months and was better but felt “foggy” and unmotivated so he quit taking them cold turkey… Ya that was a fun 4 weeks… Now he’s right back into full anxiety attacks daily. He can’t work or function whatsoever. He believes there are a host of other things wrong with him. Nothing he can seem to pinpoint, he just refuses to believe it’s anxiety attacks. He takes his blood pressure every hour on the hour, he checks his pulse 10+ times a day, he looks over his body and arms inspecting them for any abnormality he can justify… He’s turning into a hypochondriac or something! I’m literally watching my husband go crazy! Now he swears it’s his digestive tract making him feel that way. And still believes his arteries are blocked or he has some kind of mysterious heart condition. What do I do for him?!!

hiedi February 5, 2018, 12:54 pm

I have a close friend who I am learning is not in control of his behavior and emotions anymore and it causing anxiety in me. I lived with a friend years ago not in denial about panic attacks and was the friend who would make distractions for him when he would get an attack to call him in a calm space or let him sneak a cold shower to fight his fight or flight. This new friend is in denial I guess. I thought perhaps we just weren’t to a place in our relationship initially for him to feel open, but now a few year later I know it to be other. He thinks he is in control and just a bad communicator. He has 2-3 episodes in a couple hours of hanging out with my family. He is hyperventilating (or loud aggressive attempted controlled breathing), trembling, looking white, struggling to talk with clipped words, and becoming irratic so that it’s just plain RUDE. I have shared that I don’t know what to do when this happens and it stressed me out because I don’t know how to help him. It’s more than clear it’s nothing to do with me and this stuff happens out of the blue. He can be reading a book to my toddler, in the middle of driving, just sitting too long with quiet. I feel scared to be in a car with him now. I don’t want him teaching my kid this is OK, when he won’t identify it to her. Honestly if feels like I am slowly becoming a person with panic attacks because it’s traumatic to be around. I am about to say, “if you are in control, hen lets hang out when you get your private personal business in check and can hang out with us unhindered.” I know that’s not fair at the same time….because he is out of his mind in denial and he thinks he’s got it in control, just needs a little counseling to learn how to talk…I want to hunt down his counselor and tell her that he is about to loose a friend because his episodes are to regular and completely distressing. But I think have decided that if I don’t hear back in a week or so or after he has his next episode with us, with him being open about treatment or acceptance, then I needs to part ways. I am someone with health issues of my own and a solo parent, so it’s actually not OK for him to ignore my very normal feelings to his behaviors.

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