I think that one of the reasons there is a stigma around mental health and simultaneously one of the biggest challenges for people struggling with their mental health, is the lack of understanding that society has of mental illness. People say that we should treat them the same way we treat a broken leg and while I respect these efforts to normalize the conversation around mental health, I fundamentally disagree with that comparison. If you break your leg, you go to the hospital, they put you in a cast, and in a few weeks, it is mended. Mental health is different. It is often an ongoing struggle with no quick fix and it’s impossible to put a bandage on and make it magically improve. The biggest step we can take towards smashing the stigma around mental health is educating society on what mental health is, how to take care of it, and what to do if you’re struggling.
Fundamentally, everyone has to protect their mental health whether they are dealing with a mental illness or not. Protecting your mental health comes in a myriad of forms from scheduling some self-care time to take a bath and read a good book to going to therapy. I wish that mental health care was as normalized as physical health care. I wish that there wasn’t a stigma around the discussion of mental health and therapy. And only by educating society and openly discussing the importance of protecting your mental health as much as your physical health will this stigma begin to disappear.
After having some very negative experiences with therapy when I was in high school, I stopped therapy at age 18. For a long time, I felt that I couldn’t see a therapist because I wasn’t struggling as much as other individuals. I knew my diagnosis, but I thought it wasn’t ‘bad enough’ to warrant help. I felt like I didn’t deserve therapy as much as other people; I didn’t want to waste a therapist’s time by helping me. And no one told me differently. Plus, after years of unhelpful therapy experiences, I had no faith that I could find a therapist who would truly care and make me feel good.
Years later I decided to start therapy again and it helped me learn the single most valuable lesson. In our first session, while I was worrying about whether I deserved to be there, my new therapist looked me in the eye and said: “everyone deserves to feel better.” Instead of dismissing me at that moment, she made me feel safe and seen. She reassured me that I deserved help and support.
Good therapy has removed my own stigmas and negative ways through understanding. It has allowed me to make sense of the causes and effects of my struggles with mental health. Understanding that it isn’t your fault that you are struggling or that people don’t quite understand what you are going through, has allowed me to change my focus from a place of judgment to one of striving for awareness and insight. It is comforting to begin to figure out and process my own mental health. When you hurt yourself physically, you go to the doctor. When you are mentally hurt, the norm should be to go to the doctor. It’s not about quick fixes, how sick you are compared to someone else, what your diagnosis is, or why. Everyone deserves the opportunity to get professional help so they can start leading the way to a happy life.