Today's post has been inspired by my recent decision to try medication for my mental health. I have anxiety and depression, and for months I've been researching and talking to others and really considering my options when it comes to treatment. I have been having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (or CBT) sessions for around 4 months and so far it's not been very helpful for me personally but it got me thinking about how I wish I'd have sought help sooner and why I didn't. I know that getting help for mental health problems is scary for many people; I was extremely nervous and put it off for such a long time, however it's really important that if your mental health is affecting your everyday life and stopping you doing the things you enjoy that you seek help. There are many reasons why people struggle to ask for help, some of which influenced me when it came to having the courage to go to the doctors and so I wanted to talk about some of those reasons.
Mental Health Stigma
One of the major contributing factors to people not wanting to seek help is the discrimintion and stigma in society towards mental health. There is still a lot of ignorance when it comes to people's perceptions of those with mental health conditions. In a survey by charity Time to Change, they found that 87% of people reported that they had experienced stigma. Mental illnesses are often undermined, they are not considered as 'real' health problems and people say cruel things like 'just get over it'. People trivialise the feelings of people with mental health conditions by telling them to stop worrying and saying that there's others who are worse off than them and that they have no reason to be sad. There are also a lot of horrible names that are used to describe people with mental health problems, such as 'crazy' or 'psycho' so the thought of being labelled is often very upsetting and even embarrassing for some people. It can be worrying to think of how discrimination may cause people to act differently towards you after they learn about your mental health problems. It can be very hard to ignore the negativity around us and the thought of being judged can make us worried about being open about how we feel, but it's important to remember that your feelings are valid and you are not alone. There is lots of support out there for you and you shouldn't let the opinions of others hold you back from seeking help.
You've never told anyone about your mental health problem
If you've never talked to anyone about how you're feeling, it can be terrifying thinking about opening up to a complete stranger about your innermost thoughts. This was definitely something that stopped me from talking to anyone about my mental health. My anxiety made me feel as though no-one would believe me or take me seriously and I've always worried that I'm wasting people's time. It took the difficulties that I experienced in my final year of university to finally convince me that there was nothing I could do to help myself without trying to seek support. My first step was going to speak to my universities student services and I had a meeting with one of the advisors about my anxiety and how it was making it challenging for me to cope with my studies. I'm really glad that I did because they put an action plan in place to help me and it made me feel proud of myself. It was this that gave me the courage to go to see my GP about my anxiety. A piece of advice that helped me prepare for my appointment was to write down my symptoms and make notes to take with me so that if I got panicky, I could just read off the notes. I actually ended up giving my GP the notes to read; he was understanding and referred me to the local mental health services. Even thought the first step is nerve-wracking, it's definitely worth pushing yourself and asking for help. It's important to remember that mental health problems affect many people and so doctors have heard similar things before so don't be afraid to talk to them about how you've been feeling. If you have a close friend or family member who you feel you can talk to about your mental health, you can take them along to the appointment with you :)
'Do I need help to seek help?'
Due to the media's representation of mental illness, which is often drawn from the misconceptions and lack of understanding in society, many people develop a picture of what they think someone with a mental health problem looks/acts like, and because of this lots of people question whether they are 'ill enough' to seek help. The stigma surrounding mental health also means that it's not talked about as much as it should be and there is a severe lack of education when it comes to how to recognise the signs that you might be struggling with a mental health problem. Some of the many things that people with mental health problems hear are 'everyone gets nervous sometimes' and 'you're just stressed' and constantly hearing these kinds of comments can make some people believe that what they are experiencing is normal and not something they should talk to someone about or express concern over. However, if you feel like your mental health is hindering you in any way and affecting your mood or daily life then it's important to talk to your doctor about it as soon as possible. I found it useful to research beforehand to help me understand more about what I was experiencing and this made it easier for me to communicate my symptoms to the doctor. Mind UK has lots of great information on different mental health conditions and so does the NHS website.
'But... you have a loving family'
I came across a picture the other day on facebook that quoted stigmatising comments that people with mental health problems are often faced with and one of them was 'you have a loving family'. Many people I've spoken to about mental health were nervous about telling their families about how they were feeling for many reasons. One of those reasons was because they didn't have a very supportive family and they were worried that they would be judged or even ridiculed. Another reason was because they didn't want to upset their loved ones. It can very hard to open up your family and friends if you've been depressed because you don't want them to somehow feel responsible or like they haven't been there enough for you. Some peoples loved ones can sometimes react by refusing to admit that they have a problem. All of these factors make being open about your mental health difficult. If you think you are ready to open up to your loved ones about mental health, plan a time that you can talk to them. Be prepared that you may get asked a lot of questions and that in most cases your family member or friend is just trying to understand. If you find it really difficult to discuss, maybe print out some information that you want them to know and ask them to read it in their own time. Remember that your loved ones' first reaction may not be their final reaction and that it's important to give them some time to think about what you've said. If you are not ready, then there are still many ways in which you can get some support for your mental health. There are several charities that operate helplines and email services for emotional support (find details here). There are also support groups and local organisations that offer different types of support (find info here) and you can visit your GP or ask to see a different GP in the same medical centre to discuss how you feel and they will refer to you to the local mental health service who can discuss the best options for you.
I hope this post has been helpful for anyone who is still questioning whether or not they should seek help. It was big step for me but I know it was an important thing to do to work on recovery and to learn strategies to help manage my mental health conditions. I'm happy that I did and I encourage everyone else to do so too.
You are strong and brave and you can do this!
If you have personally sought help for your mental health,
what was one of your main worries?