The stigma surrounding counseling and seeing someone to talk about your struggles because “you’re unstable” or “crazy” is extremely prevalent in our society. However, talking to someone who is trained in helping people work through the struggles that come with life is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, counseling has helped me in some of my darkest times, but you have to be willing to put in the work.
The reality is, one in four people worldwide are diagnosed with some type of mental illness during their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization. Therefore, it shouldn’t be frowned upon to seek help for something that the majority of society deals with, but that’s not the reality we live in.
The World Health Organization also found that two-thirds of people who develop a mental health disorder will avoid or do not have access to mental health treatment. Now, not having proper access to mental health treatment is different than avoiding, however, I don’t know about you, but when I read that statistic, my mind is blown. Only two-thirds of people who need the expertise of a counselor take advantage of a tool that they have access to?
Let’s look at it in this perspective; it’s like when your doctor diagnoses you with an illness of some sort – take sleep apnea for example. When your body physically has trouble breathing while you’re asleep, wouldn’t you want a machine to help regulate your breathing, which in return would give you more mental and physical energy during the day?
Yes, wearing a breathing machine to bed every night would be in your way and maybe annoying at some points, but if it meant managing your sleep apnea to live a healthier lifestyle wouldn’t you take your doctor up on it? I view counseling in the same way.
It was my senior year of high school when I started experiencing symptoms of anxiety. I didn’t know what was wrong with me when I experienced my first panic attack. Panic attacks look different for everyone: the hyperventilating, sweating, shakiness – you get the picture. I was terrified, frozen in the moment and didn’t know how to overcome what I was experiencing.
When my mother mentioned the word counseling later that year, my stomach dropped. Not knowing what to expect, how to talk to a stranger about my experiences or even how they could help me, was intimidating. Although, it was the fear of having another panic attack and not knowing how to help myself through another attack that convinced me to go.
It wasn’t until my sophomore year of college when I realized I would get out of counseling what I was putting in – just like with anything else in life.
My younger brother had just taken his life while I was away at school and I knew if I didn’t talk to someone I would fall down the rabbit hole. I began opening up more to a counselor I really meshed with and she helped me with breathing techniques, how to pinpoint what emotions I was feeling and how to overcome situations that caused anxiety.
This brings me to my next point, find someone who you get along with well – don’t just settle for “Dr. Joe,” who was your first option and give up. There are plenty of counselors out there, all with different personalities and areas of expertise. More importantly, I’ve experienced counselors who actually want me to find the right counselor for myself. They want people to find someone they get along with so that in return, they can open up and start to see the benefits of going, just like I did.
So now that you’ve gone to counseling for a while and are starting to recognize some of the benefits, what do you do?
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness and seeking help through counseling. In this fast-paced world we live in, people long for deep and meaningful conversations, but it starts with us. Even in the recent movement and push for more mental healthcare around the U.S., there’s still work to be done. However, through each person you tell your experience about counseling to, the more we can begin to break down some of those barriers.
All it takes is one voice to stand up and say, “I’ve learned so much from my counselor and it’s really helped me through some of my darkest times,” or something of that nature. Either way, counseling isn’t something to be ashamed of – if anything, you should embrace it! Utilize those sessions to better yourself and learn from it so that one by one people can begin to realize their lives are important.