Have you thought about how hard it is to admit that sometimes we need help to deal with stress, anxiety or unhappiness in relationships?
This question has been puzzling me for a while and now is the perfect time to raise it, during the Mental Health Awareness Week. I know so many people working in this field and even for them, it is hard to ask for psychological help.
Imagine a horrific situation like a car accident. After the crash, it seems natural for anyone to speak about their broken bones and multiple surgeries, but it’s not easy for them to admit they had a traumatic experience, and that perhaps they even feel psychologically unable to drive again in the future.
Technically speaking, what is the difference between a broken bone and psychological distress? Why does physical illness get considered normal, while mental illness is taboo? Could it be that physical inability is impossible or difficult to hide, while psychological trauma is not as visible?
I have been thinking about this disparity and the fact that there seems to be a sort of embarrassment and fear associated with mental health. To me, the reason might lie a long way back in history.
Think about the oldest psychiatric hospital in the world, The Bethlem Royal Hospital (Bedlam) in London, dating back to 1247. Over time the hospital became a popular attraction, where visitors could see ‘lunatics’ in exchange for a donation. The treatments at the hospital were far from ideal. Patients were routinely beaten, starved and dunked in ice-cold baths. Treatments were so severe that the facility refused to admit patients deemed too weak to withstand it. Unsurprisingly, many did not survive.
Historically, patients with mental illness or difficulties were treated in isolation, away from family and society. Even Sigmund Freud sent his daughter Anna Freud to a Health Farm to deal with her eating disorder. Using another historical example, in the Early Modern period (about 1450 to 1750), people with mental imbalance were considered to be a danger to society, and would be accused of witchcraft. At best they would be alienated from the community, and at worse, they would be prosecuted. I believe this caused understandable anxiety and fear around the subject of mental health, which has been passed on through the generations.
Mental health nowadays is perceived completely differently in various parts of the world. In the United States, the way mental health is treated is largely thanks to their young history and the ideals of the freedom-minded people that initially moved there. In general, people do not hesitate to ask for mental help when they need it.
Russia, has historically been a pagan country, so people are drawn to ceremonial or spiritual acts. I see a vast movement developing towards non-traditional psychotherapy like psychosomatics, voice therapy, transgenerational trauma programmes, among others. In Argentina, almost every person has their go-to psychotherapist. In Europe, however, it is another story. I presume people are fearful to admit even to themselves when they need help, because they worry about being judged and ‘prosecuted’.
Bearing all of the above in mind, I would like to utilise the platform of Mental Health Awareness Week to reiterate the need for openness. It is important we remind ourselves that nowadays, the stigmas associated with being different are disappearing. There is no shame in being unique, whether that’s as a result of being in a minority group, an emigrant, having learning difficulties, having different sexual orientations, or choosing a career over family.
Why is it, therefore, embarrassing to suffer from anxiety or depression? Or not being able to deal with stress or loss? To suffer from PTSD or OCD? To experience panic attacks, a sense of insecurity, or low self-esteem? Even just having and expressing a desire to understand yourself better. Why is ok to say that I have an appendix removed and it left me with a scar, but at the same time it is not ok to admit suffering from one of the above?
I would like to emphasise the fact that now you can find help from many different sources, including HealthHubble. It is possible to receive free short-term help from many charities, all of which you will find in the HealthHubble directory, as well as an abundance of more personalised services.
Another reason why people hesitate to seek help is because they believe that coaching, counselling or therapy have to go on for years. That doesn't need to be the case. This field is evolving; there are many therapists like myself that offer quick, intensive help. Sometimes just three to five sessions are enough to address a problem and equip people with the tools to help themselves. Our world is changing, and our lives are moving at a faster pace. I believe that the therapy approaches are changing too.
Don't suffer alone, and dare to ask for help. Consider shopping around for the right coach, therapist or counsellor. Give your mind and your mental health the attention and support it needs.
Be brave, be kind to yourself – and to others.