I learned a new word the other day: Anosognosia. The basic definition is a deficit of self-awareness in relation to a person’s own illness or abilities. (site here) When thinking about mental health I’ve recognized reasons people don’t seek treatment such as fear of stigma, unaware of treatment available, denial or lack of knowledge regarding their condition. Now I’ve learned there is a whole new (well new to me) reason and that is the person is incapable of understanding that anything is wrong with them.
This in and of itself is a serious disorder as the individual will never seek out appropriate treatment regardless of what family or loved ones say or what misery or inappropriateness they are experiencing. I further read that both anosognosia and denial are “almost always connected with damage in the right hemisphere of the brain.” This can happen as a result of drug use, or is a part of the illness itself such as schizophrenia. Wow, I never knew denial was also connected to biology.
I feel like I have a new perspective regarding those that are constantly hospitalized but then never come into the outpatient clinic for continued treatment. This is so significant to understand because what we think is denial may be something much more severe. I also have more empathy for families and loved ones that live with people who suffer from this. Perhaps knowing such a condition exists may help them stop trying to convince someone to attain care they will never understand they need.
The new focus should be on how to appropriately engage people with anosognosia in a way that they are willing to accept or are able to understand. Facts, figures, medical terminology etc. are clearly not the answer as these are typically the ammo we like to use when proving our point. A brief search of the internet showed that while it is a recognized condition there are not a lot of tools on how to deal with anosognosia. Also the fact that I’ve worked in mental health for over 9 years and never heard this word isn’t right. More proof we still have a very long way to go in field of mental health.