Mental health has been making a fairly good headway in recent times. A lot more people are open to being more accepting of their selves, to wanting to explore their personalities, to figuring out their unrealistic beliefs and unreliable patterns and live a more holistic life with a good balance between work and personal responsibilities. The pandemic and the resulting lockdowns also played a huge role in this as it urged people to view their problems more prominently, it gave people a front row seat at discovering how neglectful and equally distracted they have been to not consider the sad state of affairs in all walks of their lives let alone mental health. Now, whether this awareness or the realization that was forced upon us was used to bring about healthy changes in our lives or was perceived as added issues to the already existing traumatic events to feel helpless and miserable is dependent on us, although, it is to be considered that there are a lot of external factors that do aid us in choosing one of these paths. The one that this article focuses on is the stigma (public or cultural) that surrounds the concept of reaching out for help and support.
Stigma as defined by the dictionary is disgrace associated with any quality, event or person. Evidently, it has severe negative consequences for social positions. No surprise, we take how we are perceived and treated critically considering we are social beings and that we thrive on social validation and acceptance. So, how has this made people weary of reaching out for help from counsellors or any such mental health workers? Let's look at some stigmas attached to this and how it affects us.
1. I need to be mentally ill to need a counsellor.
A belief this detrimental holds people back from reaching out and wait until their issues get so nerve wracking that it paralyzes them from the sheer intensity of how difficult it has gotten. Counselling is not about asking a person for advice or letting them tell you how to live your life but it is in fact an opportunity to look at yourself and your problems in the comfortable space of unconditional positive regard and acceptance. It changes when you realize that you are worthy of the respect and attention. This belief in self worth gives a different perspective to your problems. While the fog in your mind was obscuring and blurring whatever insight and awareness you needed, a talk with a professional who specializes in giving you clarity by consciously keeping your reality as the truth will help clear it. Counsellors provide different techniques and methods that you could use going forward to bring in your own clarity without the need for a professional. To conclude, all of us have brain fogs and all of us could do with a lot more awareness and insight.
2. I am not weak.
Weakness and vulnerability are overtly criticized probably because it is not a good trait to have when all of us are on a race for the survival of the fittest. But is it not a good trait? A child is weak and vulnerable which is exactly why we unconsciously and automatically gravitate towards protecting and nurturing it. This is the exact same reason that accepting that we are weak and vulnerable at times is beneficial for us as it would help others take care of us and provide for us until we are strong enough. But imagine considering reaching out for help a sign of weakness. What have we done to ourselves? When did suffering in silence become strength? How individualistic are we that we see moments of sickness as targets for game rather than an opportunity to build relationships and trust.
3. How will I be perceived?
Considering the stigma about illness (mental and physical) it is no surprise that you will be perceived negatively or you will be considered an easy target for ridicule and shame. It really does not matter in social situations because if they are people who love and support you then they will put aside their differences and continue to stand by you because it is important for you, but, if they do not then it is a good way to know how many of your acquaintances are reliable and how many are not. Honestly speaking we have heard this a million times, "It does not matter what people think" but do we ever heed it? No. Why not? Why is it that we need innumerable celebrities to confide in us their struggle to make us believe that illness is real? So, at the end of the day are you really worried about what people think or are you worried if you deserve to feel the way that you feel?
I am not going to deny that it does have repercussions in work place or relationships or education. A whiff of sickness, especially mental, will release creatures rampant with judgement and ignorance. The only antidote is acceptance and awareness of our issues and the need to reach out for help. The advocacy of the need for prioritizing mental health will establish a more holistic improvement in all walks.
4. My family will never accept it.
Yes and we know exactly why they won't. Sure, their values are outdated, bigoted and more about their own anxieties rather than your issues. It probably makes you angry that I speak of your family as selfish or conceited but that's exactly what they are not. What they are, are human beings struggling with their pasts and combating with their everyday demons. Hence, by expecting them to put aside their beliefs and values and give in to yours with no friction is almost fantastical. So, I urge you to do what you feel is right by you instead of forgoing it for their acceptance and then turning bitter when you don't receive it. Either ways it is going to be a difficult pill to swallow so why not choose the one that is beneficial to you?
5. People have bigger problems
They do, undeniably so. But how does that make your problem any less small or any less important Why measure the problems instead of trying to solve them? When we are struggling with something does it help to know that others are suffering more deeply and more devastatingly? It does, it helps us see that we are not alone in our suffering that the whole of humanity is walking the same road and that makes us feel less isolated and more humble. While it helps us stay grounded it should also help us notice how each of us are on our own journeys and are battling our own demons and hence it is incumbent upon us to solve our own issues as well as help to combat each other's also. It should not for any reason be a tool to measure one's worth to reach out for help. Let us begin saving the Earth by saving ourselves unselfishly.
6. I cannot talk to a stranger
Trust me you can. That's the best part about therapy. You are in a wonderfully structured room or safe space, sitting across a complete stranger bounded by the ethics and the human conscience to maintain confidentiality and remain non-judgmental with the whole and sole purpose of healing you, and all you have to do is talk. It might seem strange that a person like this can exist but they do. Counselling is not just about skills, it's inherent. Being empathetic, non-judgmental, compassionate, honest, accepting and having positive regard is not something that you can be trained in. It is inherent. Find yourself a good qualified therapist that you connect with and the relationship will be beautiful.
7. It is too expensive. It is just a fad.
What you pay for therapy is the worth of the counsellor for an hour. It is how much the counsellor believes she/he can contribute to your wellbeing. It is how much the counsellor needs to make an honest living for herself/himself while also consuming maximum amount of their mental and emotional capacities. But, most of all it is how much you value your wellbeing. It is how much you think the clarity of your thoughts is worth. It is how much you believe your respite from suffering is worth. It is how much you are willing to pay somebody who reminds you of your importance and walks this journey of learning, even for a short while, guiding you through your distresses and your joys. Don't sign off until you have tried it once and felt the coherence from the simplicity of the experience.
8. How do I reach out?
This is a task, I agree. Finding the right therapist, someone who is qualified as well as someone you can connect with is challenging. It does not help that there aren't a lot of platforms that help people find therapists or awareness about who to reach out to and what to look for. Word of mouth is a reliable way of knowing or meeting good counsellors (also combats the worry of how people will perceive). Referrals are also good. If you find a reliable source online there is no trouble in trying it, to figure out if it's a good fit. But once you do through whatever mechanism to find one, reaching out to them like you would reach out to anybody through call, text or mail should be perfectly fine because we understand how anxiety inducing it must be and we will try our best to be as accommodating as possible.