It’s not a physical problem, like the flu or a broken arm. It can’t be remedied with a bowl of chicken noodle soup, a few days of rest, or by drinking plenty of fluids. It won’t be cured with a few bandages, a shot, or even surgery. But mental health is just as real as physical health.
“Mental illness is normal,” said Dan Bates, Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Lacamas Counseling. “People have diseases and no one thinks it’s odd. It’s sad, it affects people, but it’s not a shock. We’ve accepted diabetes is a normal experience. Depression is the same thing. Psychotic episodes are not a choice that people make. People don’t choose to have a mental illness.”
The American Counseling Association has been working on a “No Stigma” effort to correct misinformation, educate society, and encourage those that need help. Feelings of anxiety, depression, and similar problems aren’t a sign of weakness or lack of control. Instead of being hidden from view, these issues need to be out in the open and addressed. Those suffering need to be comforted and assured, not made to feel ashamed.
“If someone is feeling the pressure of the stigma, they might not access services,” Bates said. “If someone is not accessing services, not getting a diagnosis, or not getting treatment, it’s making a problem that’s treatable worse and worse. The suffering increases, they feel more distance from others, and it compounds this issue.”
Society often keeps the stigma associated with mental illness afloat, but those afflicted can be their own worst enemy. Instead of seeking help, they feel ashamed of themselves, as if they are to blame. Family and friends can be key in helping them realize they need help and that it’s readily available.
“Counseling carries a lot of fear for people who have never used it,” Priscilla Gilbert, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Lacamas Counseling, said. “But a personal story carries a lot of weight. (Friends or family) may offer their story, a book they’ve read or people they’ve reached out to. As we normalize what counseling means, it makes it easier. An outside perspective can really help.”
“Ask questions,” Bates added. “Don’t be pushy or rude. If you’re genuine, you can ask stupid questions, uncomfortable questions. People who are open about their experience, they don’t mind you putting your foot in your mouth. They aren’t from Mars, they’re dealing with a normal aspect of the human experience.”
The choice to get help, ultimately, falls on the individual, though. Even with a large support system in place, picking up the phone to talk to someone can still be one hurdle too many for some.
“Typically, guys wait too long to get help,” said Aynsley Silva, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at Lacamas Counseling. “We don’t want to talk about it, don’t want to address it. But without getting some specialized health care, that can be debilitating, which leads to having awful relationships, outbursts, and angry episodes. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Refusing to find help can cause a different, and more serious, reaction: having no emotions at all.
“Love and hate, we can work with those,” Gilbert said. “But people are becoming more apathetic. They turn emotions off in order to protect themselves. They don’t want joy because they don’t want to feel disappointment. Relationships can cause a lot of hurt, so people isolate and hide.”
But, things can get better. That is one of the most important things for those suffering from a mental illness to realize.
“It’s not necessarily a death sentence,” Silva said. “You don’t have to have it forever.”
Much like finding a pediatrician, family doctor, or other health care professional, getting the right counselor can make all the difference in the world.
“I had a doctor in high school that misdiagnosed ringworm in my arm,” Silva said. “But I didn’t stop going to the doctor. With mental health, people have such a hard time with the relationship part. They already feel ashamed, and have to talk about these things they don’t want to talk about. And then counseling doesn’t work. But you don’t stop going, you need to find another therapist.”
Bates, Gilbert, and Silva all think the mental health stigma has lessened in recent years, there is still work to be done.
“It’s the water everyone is swimming in,” Bates said. “At some point, we’ve had a mental illness, known someone, married to someone, or have a child with mental illness. I think there is a greater acceptance.”
Nobody wants to catch a cold, tear a ligament, or have a stroke – but they happen. It’s no different with mental health. With understanding from friends and family, those suffering from mental health issues can make a choice to get the help they need.
Lacamas Counseling counselors are fully-trained, professional, and licensed to practice in the state of Washington. Their counselors offer diverse specialties, including depression, anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, anger, trauma, grief, abuse, parenting, sexual addictions, life transitions, work/life balance, and more. Contact Lacamas Counseling at 360-975-0512 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit their website at lacamascounseling.com.