It is sad to say that a stigma remains regarding mental health. I have been in the mental health field for over 10 years and it is unfortunate that many continue to see mental and behavioral health conditions as shameful. The stigma associated with mental illness and asking for help continues to shame people struggling with mental illness and keeps many more from seeking treatment and help. We must put an end to this.
There are conditions of every single body system. There are diseases of the skin, hair, bones, muscles, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys, liver, stomach, and joints. People are more likely to seek treatment for these conditions due to physical discomfort and limited or decreased mobility. Just like the body can be allficted with illness and disease so can the brain. Mental illness can decrease attention, concentration, skew thinking, and will cause uncomfortable and distressing feelings. However people are less likely to seek help when they “feel” bad. There is a societal belief we need to, “suck it up buttercup”, or that we need to “pull up by the bootstraps and keep going”. When people are unable to do this they feel increased shame, failure, and hopelessness.
Life can be really sad and hard at times. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has had terrible events, circumstances, and situations. Granted each person’s personal experiences are unique, but the bottom line is that humans will suffer from time to time. These events and experiences may bring extreme sadness, fear, anxiety, stress, and anger. These events can interfere with your ability to sleep, eat, or work like you used to. Your situation, past or present, can make think there is no hope, you are worthless, and that you are weak. This is not true!
Societal expectations make asking for help difficult. We Americans are a people of hardwork. We spent our early years working hard to build homes and grow families and communities. People fought hard and to struggle was a way of life. Hard work does not mean you are required to feel sadness, anger, and hopelessness. Hard work means you may have confront issues to overcome the things that are causing your emotional upset.
It is also possible that people feared treatment in those days. I am sad to admit that the history of the field of psychology is bothersome. People with mental illness were not treated well and treatment was long, costly, and painful. People were treated differently by their community due to labels and misconceptions about mental health. The field of psychology has come a long way and treatment is now helpful, beneficial, supportive, and healing. However it is still difficult for many to seek treatment in times of need. Not only are people afraid to seek treatment but they are afraid to admit they are hurting. They fear the judgment they will receive for not being able to manage emotions.
Sometimes, though, we can become overwhelmed. Things in life can be too hard to overcome. There are times when emotions become so big it is difficult to know how to handle them. Perhaps the coping skills you have used before to help you are not able to reduce the upset feelings now. This not mean you are flawed, rather it means that what has worked in the past is not working now. All adults need to learn to deal with situations differently at all stages of life. Seeking help for emotional upset is only a way of learning a new way to cope.
Not only can situations in life and circumstances cause overwhelming emotional upset but there are times when emotional and behavioral upset develops due to illness and disease. Remember the brain can have an illness or a disease just like any other part of the body. When the brain isn’t working properly due to illness and disease feelings are harder to handle and behaviors will change. Do we judge people for having cancer? No we want to help them fight and survive the disease. People with mental illness need support and help to overcome their disease as well.
It is important to know you are not alone. It may seem like you are alone and it feels like no one can relate to your situation and your feelings. Please know everyone has felt the same way you have at some point in their life.
Know that you are not the only one feeling anxiety, fear, worry, sadness, loneliness, frustration, hopelessness, and anger. Mental health conditions are not rare. Millions of people suffer from mental illness.
You do not have to suffer alone. There is help. Talk to someone you trust. Tell someone how you feel.
If it is hard to say what you feel and it is scary to open up to others try journaling how you feel. The best way to feel better is to open up and get it out.
I use this analogy with clients all the time. Having a mental health condition can feel like you are carrying around a huge, heavy bag of trash. The trash smells bad and it is so heavy it causes exhaustion and makes work and other activities harder. Maybe you are so used to living your life carrying this bag of trash it seems easier to keep going then to let it go. Or maybe you don’t know how to let the trash go. It can be scary to let go. Letting go requires a change. Letting go means that things will feel differently, perhaps better, however when you are used to feeling badly it can seem easier to stay stuck there. At least if you keep going the way you are, you know what to expect. To feel better you need to go through and take out the trash little by little. You do that when you talk about how you feel or share what is on your mind. It does not mean you need to reveal all your secrets, rather simply saying how you feel can lighten your load. If you cannot identify how you feel gathering support can lighten the load. Each time you do this, the trash gets lighter and lighter.
Please remember that help is always available. If you do not have a friend or family member you can trust to open up to find a therapist. Do not be ashamed by asking for help. Asking for help takes courage. You see, asking for help requires making a change and doing something really scary. Asking for help makes you a survivor. People with cancer do not sit at home and wait to die. No, people with cancer are called survivors because they seek treatment to overcome the disease. The same is true for anyone with mental health seeking treatment. Rather than sitting around feeling horrible you seek help and treatment to survive. Reclaim your life and your right to be happy and live in peace.
* Stephanie is a Masters level therapist and licensed professional counselor in addition to being a near psychologist (pending completion of dissertation). Please contact Stephanie for more information on finding help and how you can start feeling better today.