People who consider getting help from a mental health professional are unfortunately often prevented from making that first appointment because they stumble over a hard to break stigma surrounding counseling. The stigma is the idea that people who go to counseling or therapy are somehow different, incapable, or emotionally immature, and that people will react by thinking less of them if they know a person is seeing a mental health professional. Even though counseling is common and can be sought for a number of different issues, varying in severity, people are often afraid that seeing a counselor or psychiatrist will summon an adverse reaction from their friends and family.
In order to avoid this reaction they expect others to give, a person who was formerly thinking about seeking help might tell themselves they can handle their own problems, even in the midst of intense emotional turmoil or mental distress, and choose not to pursue professional help.
Powerful cultural stigmas keep people from getting help
Anyone considering professional help should understand that the powerful stigmas surrounding counseling and therapy should not prevent them from going because the stigmas are built on falsehoods. One of the most powerful lies that prevents people from attending counseling is that people think, “I’m too messed up,” or “I don’t even know where to start talking about my issues – the psychiatrist will think I’m crazy.” On the flip side, some people think that because their symptoms don’t seem too severe, they’re not “one of those people” who has to seek mental health help.
The public perception of psychological help can powerfully influence a person’s decision to avoid it as well. A person may worry that people will view them as incapable, or that their relationships will be affected, or that their family will worry too much about them.
Counseling is much more common than you think.
If you feel like the only person considering counseling, look around. A website like Half of Us poignantly represents real stories from the wide community of people who are seeking help over hurt, anger, abuse, depression, and other issues that lead them to talk to a professional. Over 19 million people in the United States are affected by depression, with half of all college students reporting intense stress and pressure that can inhibit normal functioning during the school year. The National Health Institute of Mental Health reports that an estimated 26.2 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental health issue in any given year.
Getting help is a proactive decision that takes courage.
It’s not easy to admit a need for help. Often people bottle up their cries for assistance to avoid being a bother. So when a person can seek help from a mental health professional, it shows courage, character, and maturity. Often people don’t give themselves the credit they deserve for simply speaking up. Speaking up takes courage, and this should not be discounted.
Counseling is a confidential thing that doesn’t have to be made public.
People shouldn’t feel the need to hide their counseling attendance to family, but perceptions about mental health vary across the board and it can be hard to know how people will react to the knowledge that you are seeing a mental health professional. Whether you’re getting medication from a psychiatrist or simply talking to a counselor, you want loved ones to support you. While there should be no shame in this, it’s understandable when people stay quiet in order to avoid hurtful or insensitive comments. If it’s something that feels uncomfortable to share, a person doesn’t have to say anything. But having several close friends to whom to simply say, “Hey, I’m getting some help right now,” can be healthy, especially in order to simply know that you are supported.
Making that first appointment
Making that first appointment is a courageous step that can result in progress, change, and new habits. Don’t be afraid of stigmas or other people. Do what’s best for you. Let other people take care of themselves, and realize that you’re not alone.