Imagine you have two broken legs. The pain is excruciating and you can barely think because of it. You try desperately to stand up and walk, but find it isn’t possible. You constantly berate yourself for not being able to walk and are filled with shame because you need others to help you. After a couple of weeks, your friends and family start telling you that if you only tried harder you could walk if you wanted to.
This example seems a bit ridiculous, but it’s exactly how we treat mental illness. This is how we tend to view mental “weakness” with ourselves and others, as a matter of will. We wouldn’t view a broken bone as a physical “weakness”, but we see depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses this way. We recognize that a broken bone heals, but it needs time. We know that many chronic physical illnesses can be managed, if one seeks treatment. So why don’t we see our mental health the same way?
Imagine if our society, if we ourselves, took the same care and preventative measures with our mental health that we do with our physical health. Just as we typically don’t feel ashamed to visit our doctor because something doesn’t feel right physically, we could do the same when something doesn’t feel right emotionally. The embarrassment and guilt many feel for seeking help from a mental health professional is staggering. It often weighs on them as much as what they are seeking help for and it is so often unnecessary. The relief that my clients experience when I tell them they aren’t alone and that many others experience what they’re going through is overwhelming. It’s also a sign that we keep too much of this to ourselves and have too many misunderstandings about mental health.
#1) Mental health is not something you either have or don’t. We all will go through seasons in our lives when we are less healthy mentally and emotionally than we are at other times. During these times we may need to seek out help from a professional to get us “back on track”. Just as most of us will catch a cold or get the flu at some point in our lives, most of us will experience a period of depression or a bout of anxiety. In the same way that an antibiotic or other medication may help our bodies fight the infection, seeking counseling can help us process our feelings or figure out how to deal with our environment.
#2) Mental illnesses, like physical illnesses, range from minor and easily treated to chronic difficult to manage. The vast majority of people experiencing mental illness will fall into the first category. Unfortunately, there are some people born with serious mental illnesses that effect their day to day lives or experience trauma that will change them forever. However, seeking treatment as soon as possible can lead to better outcomes. Even if there is not a “cure”, there are medications and treatments that can help people lead productive and healthy lives.
#3) There are things we can do to help maintain mental health. Just as cutting out certain foods, stopping smoking and exercising regularly can help prevent certain illnesses; there are things we can do to help ensure we stay as mentally healthy as possible. Self care, recognizing your emotions and maintaining positive relationships are just a few.
#4) Seeking guidance from others or professional help during difficult times is not a sign of weakness. Needing chemotherapy to rid yourself of cancer does not mean you’re weak or somehow deficient because you can’t heal yourself. It’s simply how our bodies work. There are some things we are not capable of curing or managing on our own and we’re not supposed to. It is part of the human condition to need others.
This is not meant to oversimplify or minimize mental illness. It can be devastating and shake us to our core. Instead, I hope to alleviate some of the stigma, the shame and the vast misunderstanding surrounding it. So many people suffer needlessly because of embarrassment and lack of understanding so they don’t seek help. We can become healthy after being sick and well after being ill-in both our minds and bodies. Are you struggling to feel like yourself again? Do you need help getting “back on track”? A licensed mental health counselor may be able to help. Start the journey to wellness by contacting Life Enhancement Counseling Services at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health therapists.