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Breaking the Silence: Embracing Mental Health to Shatter Stigma

I think in some way shape/form we can acknowledge that seeking therapy has significant stigma surrounding it. Hardly do we talk about our difficult life endeavors, the weight of our emotions, and the secret struggles that we may be battling. I believe one of the largest factors that prevents us from seeking the help we need is shame. Those thoughts of "what will others think”, “what does that say about me", or "does that make me crazy?” Often our society/culture has led us to believe that it is "wrong" or "weak" to seek help for our emotions. That we should just be able to manage the difficulties around social, occupational, relational, and other life stressors on our own.  


I would like to address that shameful aspect with some professional insight. Our emotions are very real, I would like to acknowledge that. Also, our emotions may not line up with reality. For example, say you are passionate about puzzles, collecting coins, sports, video games, baking, hiking, traveling, whatever it may be. Now envision someone you respect, someone close to you, someone that their opinion matters. Imagine they tell you your hobby is "for the weak, a waste of time, wrong, weird, or BS." You'd be hurt, and you would probably feel shame. For those examples above that doesn't make sense, does it? Exactly. Because this person does not appreciate something that betters you, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. Because they think negatively about these hobbies doesn't mean you have to, it doesn’t make them right. That’s it, feeling shame can be misplaced. That is certainly the case for mental health treatment.

I bet some of you just noticed a change in your own feelings when I switched from the word "therapy" to "mental health treatment." There’s the stigma.  


Let me take that first step and do my part in re-imagining mental health treatment and fighting the stigma it carries. I have struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. It first started as a child with not liking crowds or meeting new people. Over time it began to incorporate intrusive thoughts (i.e. worries of myself being in an accident, the impact of that on my family, worries of something awful happening to those closest to me) and irrational beliefs (i.e. I am not good enough, I am a burden, no one likes me, I am a failure. The list goes on). Constant self-judgment and worrying how my actions, and myself in general, may be perceived by others in a negative manner. Once COVID hit (aka the world f'ing fell apart) panic attacks made their way into my life. So, I (to a degree) understand those difficult life endeavors, the weight of those emotions, and those silent battles.  I am one of the 23.1% of US adults experiencing a mental health condition. Think about that number for a bit, due to misplaced shame that number is likely skewed and probably higher, so let’s call it 1 in 4 people. Think about the 3 people closest to you in your life, people you care about more than anything. Statistically, one of you has a mental health condition. That being the case, there is a good chance that they or you are fighting that battle alone. 


I say this because approximately 60% of individuals with a diagnosable condition don't seek treatment. The most common reasons are stigma, cost, lack of access, and misinformation about what mental health care is and what it can do. I have already addressed the stigma earlier. Other variables such as cost and lack of access, sometimes can be outside of our control. I also know there are more resources and financial options for mental health treatment available that the general population are not aware of. I can’t count how many times I have heard “I wasn’t aware that there was a place like this around here.” The number of times someone couldn’t tell me if their work offered EAP (An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a voluntary, work-based program that offers free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems). Know that if you have questions about availability or financial concerns our (and many other agencies) can help assist in finding available resources for you. Helping connect individuals with mental health resources (even if not through our own companies) is part of the process as mental health professionals.  


The last variable from above that I would like to address is misinformation about what mental health services are and what they can do. If I am being honest that is hard to answer, and that is because therapy is tailored to an individual. Treatment looks different for everyone. Some things you can expect is a judgment free environment, a caring and competent professional, and self-established goals designed to help you achieve what you want to in your treatment.

You are not broken, it is not too late, you are not a waste of time. I will make this as simple as I can. If at any time reading this article, or in the past, you have had the thought “maybe I should try therapy.” Then it is time to try. That’s scary, I know... I’ve been there. Also, if you have had a negative experience in the past with mental health treatment, whenever you're ready, come back. Not every facility and/or provider is the same. To all of you, I promise, it is worth it for who you become in the end. 

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