Just as it is not looked down upon to visit your physician for a check-up, stitches or antibiotics, seeing a mental health professional should also be considered a normal, acceptable behavior. In theory, this view of mental health — that areas of the mind can be broken just as parts of the body can be — seems easy to accept. In reality, there are still a lot of stigmas attached to seeking help with mental health, especially when it comes to seeing a therapist.
There are many efforts to explain mental health and normalize its treatment. May of each year is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Tiffany Roe, a local licensed clinical mental health counselor and owner of Mindful Counseling, says her life’s work is about breaking down that stigma. In addition to her practice in Orem, Roe offers online classes and is extremely active on social media. She hosts a free podcast called Therapy Thoughts and her message is clear: therapy is cool. Roe focused her 25th Therapy Thoughts episode on busting mental health myths and outlining ways to break down stigma.
“Every single person has symptoms of mental illness,” Roe says. “It is just in varying degrees and in different levels of severity. So it isn’t an us-versus-them.”
Her podcast episode outlines five ways to combat stigma, which she defined as “shame or reproach based on an individual characteristic.” Fourth on her list is to talk openly. She says that a real cultural change will only happen if we take on this “core flawed belief [that] emotions are weak and we shouldn’t ask for help.”
For a long time, I personally dealt with similar internalized stigma about my mental health. I have always considered myself self-sufficient. I have never liked asking for help. So, when I started experiencing increased anxiety in my early 20s, I earnestly thought that I could figure it out myself. I can not express how much that plan backfired.
I fell victim to diet culture and the pursuit of “wellness,” and became wrapped up in crafting the perfect diet. I cut out food groups and suppressed my natural hunger cues. I felt compelled to exercise. My mental health continued to decline, and I felt perpetually confused. Instead of seeing the mixed messages I was exposing myself to as a problem, I blamed myself for not having enough self-control. I was stopped abruptly in my tracks last year when, at a boxing class, I did a lunge and dislocated my kneecap.
I immediately went to the hospital, where they put my kneecap back into place, took an X-ray to check for further damage and prescribed me medication for the pain. I wore a full-leg brace and used crutches. I met with an orthopedic doctor and a physical therapist. It was a long process to regain my muscle strength, including a regiment of specific exercises that will help prevent another injury. I had help every step of the way.
I find it fascinating that throughout my experience with this entire ordeal, not once did I think, “I could figure this out on my own.” I knew that there were people who were specially trained to help me heal from physical pain, and I put my trust in their knowledge. So why should I feel unwilling to see a trained professional for my emotional pain?
I’m 25 now and started going to weekly talk therapy at the beginning of the year. At times it feels as painful as a physical injury. At first, I tried my usual approach of trying to avoid the pain, to talk around it. I had always been afraid of feeling my emotions because I had bought into that flawed belief that showing emotions was a sign of weakness. What I’ve learned is that our emotions will demand to be felt and we shouldn’t be afraid. Accepting these feelings — by talking or writing about it — and letting them pass will be far more beneficial to health than repressing it until something snaps and implodes.
The Association for Size Diversity and Health defines health by saying that it “exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual. Health should be conceived as a resource or capacity available to all regardless of health condition or ability level, and not as an outcome or objective of living.”
Months later, I am not focused on outcomes or an outward appearance of health. I see my therapist to talk about past or current struggles and I let the emotions come freely. There are many different ways to process these emotions and seek help. Therapy can come in the form of talking, writing, art, group counseling, family counseling and even time spent playing with animals. Every day is a new day, but I am now a firm believer that therapy is indeed cool.
Within this process, I also learned that just like with my physical healing, I must be patient. I could not immediately walk without a limp after my first physical therapy appointment, and I did not learn all the tools to handle anxiety after just a few sessions. Everyone’s life will be full of physical and mental health struggles. Some may experience less turbulence than others, but no one is immune. There is no reason to not talk about it with each other.