The Negative Effects of Going Untreated for a Mental Health Disorder
There are a number of negative ramifications associated with not getting treatment for a mental health disorder. Certainly, mental health disorders will have specific types of risks or effects that occur as a result of not being addressed. All mental health disorders have the potential for general negative effects occur if left untreated.
According to the books Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry and Chronic Mental Illness and the Changing Scope of Intervention, Diagnosis, and Treatment these general effects include the following.
- Worsening issues: The most obvious ramification of not having a mental health disorder treated is that the specific disorder will get worse. Some disorders, such as major depressive disorder, tend to wax and wane in their severity; however, over the long run, leaving any mental health disorder untreated will most likely result in the disorder worsening over time. This means that individuals who initially only experience a few symptoms of the disorder will most likely eventually begin to experience the full extent of the potential symptoms of the disorder. As a result, the longer one waits to have their mental health disorder treated, the more complicated it becomes and the harder it becomes treat.
- The development of long-term physical issues: When a person who has a mental health disorder does not treat the disorder, a number of associated physical issues can occur. These may occur as a result of stress, anxiety, nervousness, and depression; every form of mental health disorder has an associated element of stress, anxiety, and depression that occurs along with its specific symptoms. For instance, individuals may tense certain parts of their bodies, such as their shoulders as a result of stress, and this may lead to chronic shoulder pain. Other individuals may suffer anxiety that results in gastrointestinal issues, such as ulcers. There is a large body of research that indicates that people who suffer through chronic distress associated with mental health disorders also experience chemical changes in their organs, particularly their brain, and this can lead to chronic physical problems.Chronic stress in individuals with certain forms of mental health disorders is also associated with a lack of attention to their physical problems that results in those worsening as well. Mental illness and chronic stress are associated with an increased risk to develop various medical conditions, such as obesity, cardiovascular issues (e.g., heart attack, stroke, etc.), gastrointestinal issues, increased risk for diseases like cancer, and premature death. In addition, neglecting one’s mental health and refusing to treat one form of mental health disorder can lead to the development of other mental health disorders, such as major depressive disorder, anxiety disorders, etc.
- Decreased quality of personal relationships: People who suffer through a diagnosable mental health disorder without treatment affect others around them. This can lead to a number of issues with personal relationships that can include being isolated, losing friends, failure to develop new relationships, divorce, etc.
- Other decreased quality of life issues: Leaving a mental health disorder untreated results in difficulty coping with the demands of daily living. This can include trouble with attendance at work or school, paying bills on time, maintaining one’s home, etc. The longer a person neglects treatment for a mental health disorder, the more complications may develop. These can become quite serious, including issues with homelessness, bankruptcy, loss of family, loss of career, etc.
- Becoming victimized: Individuals with mental illnesses are vulnerable to being victims of crimes or just being taken advantage of by others. Being a victim can set off a chain reaction that can result in the development of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Increased potential for incarceration: Even though having a diagnosable mental health disorder does not necessarily cause one to engage in violent behaviors, it does result in individuals having difficulty conforming to laws and other societal norms. For instance, an individual with severe depression may repeatedly neglect to pay traffic tickets, which may result in arrest. A large number of incarcerated individuals are believed to have diagnosable mental health disorders.
- Increased risk of accidents: Individuals who have untreated chronic mental health disorders are at increased risk for accidents of all types. Many of these can be serious and result in life-changing events.
- Substance abuse: Individuals who have mental health disorders are at increased risk to also develop serious issues with substance abuse and substance use disorders. In particular, individuals are highly prone to develop issues with alcohol use disorders, prescription medication use disorders, and disorders to illicit drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, etc. Having an untreated co-occurring diagnosis of a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder increases the negative effects of both.
- Suicide: Individuals with untreated mental health disorders are at an increased risk for self-harm, including attempted suicide. The vast majority of suicide attempts are associated with untreated mental health disorders; some estimates suggest that over 90 percent of suicide attempts are associated with some other form of mental health disorder.
Because the consequences of a long-term untreated mental health issue are potentially severe, it is extremely important to be able to recognize the signs and get help as soon as possible. If you suspect a loved one is struggling with an untreated mental health disorder, consult with a licensed mental health clinician or physician before attempting to approach the person. Getting constructive advice and assistance from such individuals can be very useful in uncovering the particular issue, helping the person realize that they have a serious problem, and assisting the person in seeking formal treatment for their substance use disorder. Not addressing a mental health disorder will only result in the disorder getting worse, the potential to develop other issues or conditions, and other serious ramifications that may be result in permanent disability.