*Warning: contains some language some readers may find offensive
The Stigma of Mental Health
You’re tired, emotionally exhausted, carrying a heavy load on your shoulders, and you’re scared. You’re scared that if you don’t get your shit together, you’ll end up a statistic…or worse, a laughing stock. You’re also scared that if you see a therapist or shrink, you’ll be judged. You’ll be judged by your family, friends, and…oh my God, what if your workplace somehow finds out? You’ll get fired, or worse, you’ll never be able to get a job in the future because it’ll be a part of your permanent record. Is that a thing when you’re an adult? A permanent record? What about that one time in high school you got bullied? Was that asshole who bullied you ever brought to justice by having his permanent record tarnished? Life is so unfair. You recognize you need help, but it’s so hard to look for help. You hate asking for help because it makes you seem needy. You wish you could just control your feelings. Now to go outside and smoke…
When you have a mental illness, your brain goes to worst-case scenarios about everything…including getting help.
I’ve been there. And hell, I’m a therapist. (I’m a human too you know.)
The string of thoughts you read above is like those of a person who suffers from anxiety, depression, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or PTSD, etc. Stopping these thoughts is totally possible. You CAN have a better life.
If you’re hesitant about therapy or getting professional help, here are some things to consider…
1. Ask yourself, “what do I want”?
You “want to be happy”. I ask you, “are you sure?” I personally think people who are happy all the time might be in denial or not fully connected to what it means to be human. It’s important to remember that no one is 100% happy. To be human is to feel a range of emotions and experience variance in life. What I really hear when someone says they want to be happy is “I want to return to a pre-set, balanced, and peaceful state of being after going through obstacles”. To have balance, security, stability, and inner peace probably means that you will have to do some really hard work. You will need to process any past traumas, unhelpful thoughts, and be open to a confrontation about your distorted thought patterns. You also probably want a better quality of life. This seems to be a much more realistic goal, which brings me to my next point.
2. Set some goals but be realistic and accurate.
As a therapist, I have heard so many clients say, “I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s not working.” My response to them is usually, “Well, maybe being positive isn’t necessarily helpful right now.” They probably expected me to say some crap about how positivity is the best thing in the world and they should always be happy, so they look at me like a deer in the headlights. Realism and having accurate thoughts are much better than having unhelpful, negative, and even fake-ass positive thoughts. So, let’s apply this rule about accuracy to why it is important to get professional help. Seeking therapy does not make you insane. You may have an invisible illness that’s making it pretty hard for you to live right now. Work is difficult, and relationships are hard when you’re dysregulated often, but your life is not all bad. Seeking treatment makes you a human being who is struggling but is nipping the problem in the bud. It’s almost the same as going to a medical doctor when you are physically ill. It makes you a proactive and responsible person and can prevent your mental illness from getting worse. There is still a stigma around the idea of getting help when it comes to mental health. However, if you are worried about others finding out, let me assure you that they will not because therapists are bound by ethical guidelines and entities like HIPAA, which is a set of laws that protect your privacy. Your job won’t be in jeopardy if you get help from a therapist.
3. Take a personal inventory. Evaluate your life as it stands right now.
You may think, well, “great…my life sucks.” Okay. That’s a good start. Now ask yourself why. Why does your life suck? You may say something like, “well, my boss is always pissed at me and my partner nags at me a lot”. Okay, great. Now keep asking why. Why, why, and why again until you get your FINAL answer. It will likely be something very personal and deep. Something along the lines of, “my life sucks because I am not taking any professional risks. This anxiety is causing me to hide and making me feel stuck. I want to do as much as possible with my life before I die. I want to leave a legacy of greatness.” Whoa is right.
Asking “why”, even if it seems like you’re asking a million times, increases your self-awareness. To identify what exactly is not going well in life also helps you look at where you need to go next. This will allow you to take ownership of your problems. (Don’t look at me like that.) Yes, you must own a portion of your problems. For example, your job could potentially be in jeopardy if you do not get help. This invisible illness or mental disorder is interfering with your sleeping and eating patterns, which is also causing some distress in your job performance and even with your significant other. Remember that there is no shame in getting help, and it is a better option than doing nothing.
Sure, maybe some terrible shit has happened to you before. Maybe you couldn’t control that. But here and now, and in the future, you can control how you react to what happens. Once you analyze which parts of your problems you have control over, it is actually pretty empowering. It also gives you full ownership and control over your own healing. One day you’ll look back at how you got professional help and you’ll be able to proudly own your progress. Disclaimer: self-analysis is not always easy. Therapists are trained professionals who can listen to your thought patterns and support you in identifying and changing them. If you are having a hard time evaluating the root of your problem, don’t worry because this is one of the many benefits of working with a trained mental health professional.
4. Consider writing down your plan to get help.
This part takes a bit of effort. To start off, include your final “why” (see step three above) you need to seek help at the top of the page. This will be a constant reminder of your initial motivation for seeking therapy. Your plan should include small, actionable steps that you are willing to do. Remember the whole “be realistic” thing from earlier? Well, that’s going to come in handy here. You should definitely not start off with an objective like “climb Mount Everest in one month” if you have been sitting on your ass for the last 11. Objectives should be easily accomplished. When they are completed one by one and progress from each is piled on top of the other, it will become a huge accomplishment (imagine grains of sand piling up to create a big old hill). Your sand-grain objectives can be things like getting up 5 minutes earlier tomorrow than I did today or eating one vegetable this week. Once you get the hang of accomplishing one, incrementally increase the difficulty.
A written plan to seek treatment might look something like this:
Day 1-I’ll search for three different counseling centers in my area through the internet.
Day 2-I’ll call each place asking if they are taking new patients and inquire about the process to make an appointment.
Day 3-Choose one clinic and make an appointment for next week.
Day 4- Tell a loved one I am getting help and I’ll need their support.
Day 5- Start writing thoughts in a journal.
Day 6- Do something calming/pleasurable.
Day 7- Attend appointment.
Breaking tasks down into smaller chunks is super duper helpful for people who are struggling emotionally or for those who have a mental illness. Don’t let your mind fool you. Mental HEALTH is absolutely something worth working toward. Someone wise once told me, “it’s better to be miserable for 365 days than it is to be miserable for 366.” So, don’t waste any more time. It’s okay to be scared and uncertain about mental health treatment. That’s just where our society is with it right now, and that is okay. What’s not okay is living with regret, not realizing your life is worth living for, and not taking some small steps to live a quality life. Go for it! Seek help!
Cristal Martinez Acosta
Licensed Professional Counselor
Board Certified Therapist
Cristal M. Acosta, TX LPC, Board Certified Therapist, and podcast creator, is committed to shining light on EVERYTHING mental health by de-mystifying therapy, humanizing therapists, and de-stigmatizing mental illness!
*This segment is for informational/entertainment purposes only. You should always seek the advice of your own doctor or mental health professional. *
Cristal Martinez Acosta has been serving as a mental health clinician in the El Paso, Texas Borderland area since 2011. Cristal is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Board Approved Supervisor (LPC-S) in the state of Texas and a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) through the National Board of Certified Counselors. She graduated with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology. Then she attended New Mexico State University, where she earned a Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance with a 4.0 GPA.
Cristal has experience working with youth and adults who have been affected by traumatic events. Her areas of interest are parenting support, childhood abuse, domestic violence, anxiety, high-risk youth, depression, Reality Therapy, and immigration issues. She is certified in Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and the region’s only Level One Trainer in Parent Child Interaction Therapy (via PCIT International). She is also trained, and pursuing certification, in EMDR. She has taught licensed professionals, school counselors, and other community members in the areas of Trauma Informed Care, PCIT, and TF-CBT. She also supervises developing counseling professionals and students and is currently accepting applications for LPC-Interns. To learn more about Cristal, or to listen to her free mental health podcast, please visit www.throughtheeyesofatherapist.org.