May is Mental Health Awareness Month – what do most people think of when they think of mental health? Most often it is celebrities such as Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, or Kurt Cobain. This often becomes the most visceral and public face of mental health awareness. The truth, however, is that the true face of mental health awareness is your neighbor who has trouble attending social events since his wife passed away. It is your cousin who has a great deal of difficulty getting out of bed each day. It is your brother who avoids family situations because of debilitating anxiety. The real faces of mental health awareness are the everyday folks who are having a tough time.
Part of the challenge of Mental Health Awareness Month is removing the stigma that is still too often associated with seeking help. The truth of mental health awareness is that we all encounter difficult times in our lives. There are times when we are functioning really well…and times when we are functioning less well. That’s just human nature! The good news is that a well-trained mental health professional can help just when we need it most.
There are a number of misconceptions that can get in the way of us taking advantage of this kind of help. Let’s talk about a few of those:
Misconception #1: “If I go into “therapy”, it means I am really, deeply flawed.”
Reality: Have you ever needed a medical professional’s help recovering from the flu? Have you ever needed Physical Therapy for a shoulder or a knee that wasn’t working quite the right way? No difference here! We all have times when we aren’t functioning at our best and good therapy can often get that fixed much more efficiently and quickly than trying to do it on our own!
Misconception #2: “Therapy takes years.”
Reality: Most people engage in the therapeutic process for a short time, often a few months at most. Some choose to continue for a longer time to work on new and different things, or because they enjoy the process, but the majority of “problems” can be worked through fairly quickly.
Misconception #3: “My therapist will think I’m “crazy” and I’ll look bad.”
Reality: You would be shocked at how “not alone” you are in facing life challenges. In fact, many of the folks that you know are likely facing issues of their own, but are afraid to get help with those issues. The reality is that your therapist is likely admiring you for taking proactive steps to help yourself. Many therapists have spent time in therapy themselves, so they’re very likely to have a real sense of what you are dealing with. They may even have been through something similar. The good news is that you now have an expert to help you to navigate this situation.
Misconception #4: “Therapy is expensive and I can do this on my own.”
Reality: The odds are that maybe you can do this on your own, but why should you have to? In therapy, you have an expert helping you to consider the most relevant factors in the situation, your own feelings and values, and your own solutions. Not only do you have an expert on board, you also leverage that expert’s considerable experience. Most people who work through an issue in therapy report that the issue is more fully resolved and less likely to recur than when they try to go it alone. They also report that issues tend to be resolved more quickly when in a therapeutic environment. Additionally, the therapist is an unbiased person, and can help see things that often we can’t see ourselves when we’re “in it”, so to speak. In short, therapy can be the most efficient way to work through issues. You invest in things every day, a few dollars invested in your emotional and cognitive well-being is money well spent. Who better to invest in than yourself?
So, the next time you wonder whether you are alone in having challenges, look around you. There are very likely others wondering the same thing. The next time you wonder whether a mental health professional can help, think back on the realities outlined above. You may just find that having a highly trained, neutral person in your corner may be the ticket to living your best life. We all deserve that.