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Stigma

Is it okay to ask for help?


There has always been some sort of stigma about going to therapy, and the attitudes towards mental illness in general vary among individual, family, ethnicity, culture, country, and generation.


Some of this stigma is public stigma: the fear of what others and society will think of them. The other part is self-stigma: how you feel about yourself in reaction to the public stigma. It is often a threat to one's self-esteem, self-efficacy, and worth.

 

For a long time, therapy and mental illness has been such a taboo topic, despite the amount of people suffering from mental illness. 1/5 adults suffer from mental illness every year and only about 40% receive treatment (*NAMI). 

 In some ways, the nature of therapy reinforces the public stigma. In addition to therapy being completely confidential, therapists do all that they can to make it completely discreet, reduce time in waiting rooms, etc. so one should never have to experience the "shame" of going to therapy. But does this make us feel like we have something to hide?  

Some hesitate to come to therapy because they feel it is a sign of weakness. Only when you are unable to deal with your problems alone (or with family/friends) would you ever seek outside help. In this case, I think when we educate ourselves as to what mental illness really is, and how common and "normal" it is, those attitudes may change.

On a positive note, "millenials" are more willing to talk about it then the previous generations, and going to therapy is becoming more and more socially accepted, and therefore self-accepted. Seeking help in itself

can sometimes be a boost of pride that might have originally been damaged by shame one feels about having "problems/issues". It does take courage to come in, many debate going to therapy for years before they finally make the appointment, and from what I've seen, they are really proud of themselves and feel a sense of accomplishment when they do.

I think we have made great strides in de-stigmatizing therapy, but occasionally, when someone asks me what I do for a living, I hear: "you must deal with a lot of crazy people." There are still people who think that in order to see a therapist, you have to be crazy, wealthy, or both. Others hear what I do and start sharing about their experiences in therapy. I've heard therapy be compared to "having a personal trainer," a self-care luxury.


In reality, most people who seek counseling don't have serious mental illness, rather they prioritize their mental health and may want assistance with whatever it is they're going through at the time. Often they are dealing with life transitions, relationships issues, specific conflicts, or just want to understand themselves and their patterns of behavior and thoughts better. Sometimes people want to work on new skills, like communicating better in the workplace or in romantic relationships. 


Most people I work with are more comfortable coming to therapy, and I feel that is partly a product of being located in New York City. I have worked with teens and pre-teens who have been brought by parents, who have sat in silence for their first few sessions, until they felt comfortable opening up, and I think it helps when acknowledging their feelings of discomfort and shame.  

What can we do to fight stigma?


*Talk about it: be open and honest to those you trust and feel comfortable with. Opening up the conversation gives people the opportunity to become more educated about it and it normalizes it for everyone. It may help when you realize you are unlikely to be the only one experiencing what you are going through. *Get proper care: treat a mental illness like you would a physical one. Going to a therapist for an anxiety disorder should be like going to your PCP for a stomach virus.

*And realize that it doesn't make you who you are: your mental illness does not define you. You are not depressed, you may suffer from depression, amongst all the other things that make you you!

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