Every year about 44 million American adults will experience a serious mental health condition, and less than half will seek treatment. There are many reasons people choose not to seek treatment for their mental health struggles. A significant factor is being afraid to face stigma and discrimination.
One of the best ways to help end the stigma around mental health is to talk about it.
Anyone can struggle with their mental health. There may be no outward-facing symptoms or indicators if your friends are family need help. Stephanie, a Certified Medical Assistant in Southwest Health’s Platteville Clinic, details how mental health has impacted her life and how she has worked every day to improve it.
As someone who has dealt with mental illness, I view talking about my struggles as a way of helping others.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone rushes over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you’re depressed, they may run the other way because they don’t know what to say. That’s the stigma. People can accept that any body part isn’t functioning correctly besides our brains. And that ignorance has created a world that doesn’t understand depression, that doesn’t understand mental health.
Backtrack a few years, being asked where you see yourself in six months? I would have shrugged it off and claimed I didn’t know when honestly, I knew. I knew I did not see myself making it through that same year. After another sudden, unexpected loss of someone so important to me, I was stuck in the mindset that I couldn’t continue to move forward and that there was no reason to live a life that was so dark and disappointing. I had struggled with my mental health for years, but this was rock bottom. I didn’t think I would make it through 2019, but I did. Mental illness does not define who you are; instead, it is something you experience. Your courage and strength define you. Without my struggles, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Healing and growing are processes that are not linear.
There are ways I worked to improve my mental health, and just a few broad ideas are below:
#1 I had always been someone with a negative mindset regarding therapy. I had the perception that I would just sit on a couch with a stranger being asked, “how does that make you feel?”. It was never something that sounded appealing to me. I assumed that’s what family and friends are supposed to do.
While our family and friends’ support system offers compassion and suggestions, they are not licensed professionals. I was determined to figure out why I was continuing negative behaviors and thought patterns and how to navigate them. One of the best decisions I have made was going to therapy. I urge people to be open-minded, honest, and trust the process. Don’t give up after a few visits if you don’t feel you’re getting anywhere.
Don’t give up on therapy if you don’t immediately click with your therapist. Each has a different approach. A few things I have learned in therapy:
- You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can control your response.
- Detachment doesn’t mean not caring. It is taking care of yourself first and letting others take responsibility for their actions without trying to save them.
- Putting yourself first is a must; if you must let someone or something else down to protect your mental health, you should.
#2 I had to hold myself accountable. If I told myself I would do something, I did it. This kept me accountable and helped me gain confidence and prove to myself just how strong, determined, and resilient I am.
#3 I needed to learn to forgive myself for the wrong decisions, for the times I lacked understanding, for the choices that hurt others and myself, for times I didn’t stand up for myself, of the times I felt like I wasn’t enough. I forgave myself, learned from it, and did better.
#4 Instead of making endless excuses as I had in the past, I visited the gym for an hour or went for a 2-mile walk five days a week. Exercise is one of the most underrated things we can do to increase our endorphins which trigger a positive response.
#5 I learned to surround myself with the right people. By surrounding yourself with positive, caring, intelligent, loving, and open-minded people, you can curate your support system. You create a unique environment that is conducive to your emotional and personal growth. Surround yourself with those happy for your happiness and see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it for yourself.
#6 I taught myself how to be okay with my own company. This was uncomfortable but probably the most important. You are responsible for your own life. Do the things you want to do, with or without people. Yes, that means going to the movie you want to see alone. Going to that concert you’ve been dying to see. Going to that exercise class, you’re scared to go to because you don’t know a single person there.
Stop waiting on others and start showing up for yourself. Be okay with where you are in your journey, and stop comparing yourself to others. Take a class and learn something new. Trying something you may not think you’ll like. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Happiness is a choice, not a result, and it starts with you. Not with your relationships, job, money, or your circumstances. Your happiness can come only come from you.
#7 Learn to be thankful for the good, the bad, and the ugly. I am not only grateful for my journey but also for expressing gratitude to others. A simple compliment, thank you card, text message or phone call, flower, or a simple act of kindness towards someone not only makes you feel those feel-good emotions, but they, too, feel good.
Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your unique perspective.
If you need mental health assistance and want to set up an appointment with any providers at Southwest Behavioral Services, call them at 608-348-3656.
Southwest Behavioral Services is not a crisis facility. If you or someone you love is having a mental health crisis, do not hesitate to reach out to the 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Line: Grant & Iowa Counties (800) 362 – 5717, Lafayette County (800) 552 – 6642, or call 911. You can also use the new resource www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org to connect with a counselor through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.