Last week was Mental Health Awareness week. I guess I missed it, so this is belated. Though, to paraphrase The Bloggess, “wouldn’t it be awesome to just have to be aware of mental health one week a year?” (Apparently there’s also a month in May.)
Anyhow, many people see weeks like this as an opportunity to do something to help their friends, family members, and colleagues who struggle with mental illness. They ask: what can I do to reduce stigma?
This year I have an answer: you can destigmatize therapy. And it starts with a question to ask yourself.
Ask Yourself: Is Therapy Part of Your Self Care?
Are you seeing a therapist? If the answer is yes, good for you! If the answer is no, why not? After all, you’re dealing with Covid stress and election fear. You’re working from home and caring for your kids and feeling guilty that other people “have it worse”.
You might be trying meditation, yoga, and other wellness techniques for self care. So why isn’t “find a therapist” high on your list of self care options?
Why People Don’t Get Therapy
There are many reasons that people aren’t in therapy. I’ll start with a few that are common for people who have tried to find a therapist. (Many thanks to Christina Wodtke for calling out a few of these!)
- Finding a therapist is (perhaps shockingly) hard. Many therapists are overbooked and not taking new patients, and the process of calling number after number is daunting.
- Finding the right therapist is even harder. Finding a therapist is a lot like dating – even a good one may not communicate in the right way for you.
- Therapy can be expensive. Some therapists require upfront payment and you get reimbursed by insurance. Others don’t take insurance, or don’t take your insurance. (My one caveat here is that this is not the same as “therapy is too expensive.” It’s worth talking to a few therapists to learn what your options are, and your copay may actually be less than you expect.)
But there are other reasons as well, and these are the reasons I’d like to focus on today. Specifically, why are mental health allies not seeking out therapy? Here are some of the top reasons I hear:
- I don’t have time for therapy
- Therapy can’t help solve my particular problems
- I don’t need a therapist, my problems are just normal issues
In short? It is mental health stigma that is telling you all three of those things. If we destigmatize therapy, you might see things a bit differently.
You Deserve Care
“But wait Marli,” you may be thinking, “I’m an ally. Why do you think I need therapy?”
In short, therapy is a way to get an outside perspective on your life. It’s like guided reflection with a friend who has your best interests at heart, is paid to listen to you, and holds an objectivity about everything in your life. I believe that people who are not diagnosed with mental illnesses should see therapists for two reasons:
- You deserve it. Everyone deserves to have the support a therapist will provide, just as you deserve “downtime” or “a moment to relax.” Therapy takes the same amount of time as yoga, and it has far more long-lasting benefits. A good therapist will work with your schedule, and can actually help with processing all the awfulness going on in the world.
- The best way to destigmatize mental illness is to normalize treatment. I can’t imagine how much faster I would have gotten support for my (at the time undiagnosed) anxiety, depression, and eating disorder if seeing a therapist hadn’t been something “only sick people” did. It took me 10 years and more than one hospital visit to acknowledge I needed help. I can’t imagine how much easier it would have been if seeing a therapist was just something people did.
Yes, your “little problems” and “normal stresses” are worth seeing a therapist over. But what’s more, you can help stop the stigma against mental health by doing something for yourself.