Mental Health, Stigma, and Therapy

One of the most damaging taboos that I have ever run across is the taboo against speaking out and articulating issues having to do with mental health.

My first experience with this phenomenon happened before I was born. My mother was the oldest of 6 children. When my mother was 18 years old, her family home burned down. Her two youngest sisters died in the fire. My uncle, the child closest in age to the girls, spent several weeks underneath the stairs, refusing to come out. Nowadays we would send him to grief counselling or therapy of some kind. But in 1968, they simply let him do what he was doing. He grew up, developed a heroin addiction, and died of an overdose when I was 20 or so.

When it comes to dealing with our problems, we as a species are really not great at being our own counselors. It’s hard to be honest with yourself about your behavior, or even the behavior of others. Everything you do is filtered through your brain, which is suuuuuper biased for all kinds of reasons.

But, while we are super flawed when it comes to judging ourselves (and sometimes others) when it comes to emotional and mental health, we also aren’t super great about seeking help when we need it. Nor are we good at being honest when we start to get it, or about our needs and boundaries while we are working on ourselves.

There’s a lot of reasons for that. Having serious emotional or mental problems in your life is a highly stigmatized thing. It also, for me, feels like a really personal thing. It’s one thing if the people around me find out that I broke my leg. It’s quite another if they find out that I’m being medicated to deal with my anxiety or depression or what have you.

And I mean, when you consider the history of mental health in this country alone, the stigma against disclosing mental health issues becomes pretty easy to understand. Who wants to be institutionalized or shunned because their behavior doesn’t fit into the norm?

There’s also the issue of people simply not believing you when you say that you are feeling upset or depressed. Or not understanding the depth to which a person can be hurting at any given moment, or the work that they are doing and will continue to do in order to make themselves feel OK. There’s a lot of “well you don’t seem depressed” or “just go hang out with friends, you’ll feel better” and that kind of thing that gets floated around when someone says they’re dealing with anxiety or depression or any number of illnesses that happen to be invisible to the naked eye. Robot hugs makes a really good point about this whole phenomenon and how little sense it makes.

2013-11-21-Helpful Advice

I personally think that more work needs to be done in order to make these things OK and safe to talk about. And to that end, I’m going to be honest about some of the things that have been happening on my end.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been depressed. With help, I’ve been looking for a therapist, which has at least given me the feeling that I am on the right track. But it’s been super hard to deal with. I’ve gone through this before once or twice in my life. I get depressed, I go to therapy for a while, then I quit when I feel better. I feel like there are some underlying issues that I’ve never really fully addressed that actually need scrutiny for more than a month or two. It’s easy for me to get just enough help so that I feel better and quit. I do the same thing with the gym. I hit it hard for like a month, lose a few pounds, then get all scattered about it over the next couple of weeks until I feel uncomfortable enough and guilty enough to go again. Later, rinse, repeat.

Anyway, so I’ve been dealing with this. And it’s been rough. But I think it’s going to get better. I also think it’s important that we be open about what we are going through as people. Not only does it makes it easier to be honest with and accountable to ourselves, but letting the people that we care about see what is going on within helps them to be more honest with us and with other people who are close to them. Which I think can be a really powerful thing.

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