Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Musings on mental health

The other night, "The Bachelorette" praised therapy. That's a big deal, y'all. It shouldn't be. But it is.


It's quite appropriate that this discussion was aired during Mental Health Awareness Month (May). Even though that month is now over, it's never too late to continue the discussion on mental health and therapy.

Over the years, my views on mental health have changed. I've lost people I knew to suicide. I've witnessed friends spiraling in self-destruction. I've also become friends with mental health professionals. And while they don't tell me about specific cases, I've definitely gotten a feel for their work through conversations. And their work is much-needed.

Admittedly, I used to view therapy and counseling as negative. Not that I didn't think people should have it, but I thought someone really needed to be broken or at rock bottom to see a professional. There were times in my past when I struggled with my self-image and my emotions in general. People would tell me I should see a counselor, but I wasn't in danger of hurting myself or others, so I didn't think it was necessary. Instead, I battled my inner voices and demons alone. Looking back, I can see points where I probably lost people and friendships because I refused to get help. I wish I'd known then what I know now.

Seeing a therapist doesn't mean you're broken.

I've decided therapy is a lot more like servicing your car. Your vehicle needs routine oil changes and maintenance to make sure everything's running as it should be. Therapy is much the same way. Our brains need maintenance too. And if something's off, catching it sooner rather than later can help us get back on the right road. (I won't apologize for the traffic metaphors. They work.)

Seeking counseling doesn't mean you're weak.

It takes a lot of self-awareness to know when you need help. It takes a lot of courage to ask for help. It takes strength to follow through with that request for help. There's a lot of work involved in counseling -- on both sides. You will only get out of counseling what you put into it. That takes persistence and dedication, which are nowhere near the realm of weakness.

I'm learning all of this first hand. For several months, I've been thinking about seeking a therapist. There have been a lot of changes in my life in the last few years -- I was laid off from two jobs in the span of seven months, I moved, I lost friendships, I changed career paths completely, I started a new relationship, etc. I still struggle with the fallout from some of those things. Finally, after I got over my nerves about opening up to a stranger, I found a counselor. I've only been to three sessions so far, but I'm very glad I signed on with her. The work has only just started, but I already feel better just knowing I have that outlet.

The stigma around counseling, therapy, and mental health remains, but I hope it starts to fade. We wouldn't (or shouldn't) shame someone for going to a doctor when they have a fever or physical illness. Why aren't we treating mental health the same way?

No one should feel bad about taking care of themselves. Ever.

A close friend referred me to my counselor, but there are other ways to find a professional near you. I highly recommend checking out the Find a Therapist function on Psychology Today. You can even select if you prefer a man or a woman, determine if they take your insurance, read their bios, and see if they're accepting new patients.

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