Why There’s No Shame In Talking To A Professional About Your Mental Health
Today is national R U OK day. In being open about mental health issues and starting important conversations with those around us, Chloe Papas gives us a personal account of the value she’s found in talking to a professional when she’s been struggling, and why there is absolutely no shame in pursuing this avenue of support.
I get down sometimes. I don’t mean down, like, on the dance floor. More like down on the couch with a blanket pulled up to my neck, absentmindedly flicking telly channels, likely consuming a family sized bag of snacks. It’s stereotypical, but it’s true. I get anxious sometimes too, and that looks a little different. Sometimes it’s being almost paralysed, unable to move far, ignoring social events, not replying to friends, refusing to open the door, being able to do little else than play hours of candy crush. Other times, it flips on its head: I work, and work, and go to every event on the calendar, and get no sleep, and drive myself into the ground.
Those are just the forms that my depression and anxiety take – everyone is different. For me, mental health issues come and go; sometimes they are rare, and sometimes they set up camp. For others, they’re permanent, and for some, they are random blips on the radar. One in five Australian adults experience some form of mental illness every single year, and if you’re in the 18-24 year old bracket, the prevalence is even higher.
I’ve tried a lot of different techniques to deal with depression, anxiety, and just feeling a bit shit. Avoidance was my favourite method for a long time – but let me tell you, that technique is not a winner! 10/10 do not recommend. The only avenue that has worked for me time and time again, is seeing a therapist and surrounding myself with a good support network.
There’s something soothing about the safe space of a therapist, psychologist or counsellor’s office, and the presence of a person who is paid to listen to me talk and talk and talk.
Here is why I think there is absolutely no shame in getting comfy on one of their couches.
Everyone else is doing it too
Have you ever noticed that pretty much everyone on America TV shows and movies seems to be in some kind of therapy? It’s because they are. There aren’t a lot of recent stats out there, but all the way back in 2004, half of American households had at least one member visit a mental health professional during the space of a year. Here in Australia, around half of those of us affected by mental health issues seek out professional help. It’s not enough, but we’re getting there.
When I first thought about finding a therapist, I tentatively asked friends and family if they had done the same – and I couldn’t have been more surprised. I can almost guarantee that if you do the same, at least someone you know will have experience with therapy. It’s just that we don’t talk about it as openly, which needs to change.
They are excellent secret keepers
A therapist isn’t a parent, a partner, a sibling, and they are definitely not your best friend. They are trained professionals who exist to be your sounding board, and to objectively guide you through tough stuff. You might think your mum or a friend can be that person for you, but unfortunately, they can’t. People who are close to you are invested in your life, your decisions, and are totally biased even if they say they can be objective. There will always be things you don’t want to tell them about, or issues you discuss in a censored way.
When it comes to therapy, you can throw all of that out the window. Therapists aren’t invested in your lives, and they are ethically and legally obligated to listen to you. They can never discuss your issues with anyone else unless you give them permission to, or unless there is a potential threat to your life.
There is no weakness in wanting to get support
In Australia, we are very good at telling people that they shouldn’t need help. We’re all good old Aussie battlers. You just need to ‘man up’ (ugh)! Stop being a wuss! #1stWorldProblems. No, nope, stop it, no, shush. Asking for help is a ballsy move. It takes a lot of courage, and sometimes it can take a while, and most of the time it’s pretty goddamn hard. Personally, I’m very good at ignoring my problems until they blow up in my face. But, learn from me.
I hate to use the classic analogy but here it is: if you’re physically sick, you go to the doctor, so if something is going on mentally, why wouldn’t you head to a therapist? Thankfully, the conversation in Australia is slowly starting to steer towards positive values surrounding mental health, but I’m here to tell you, one more time with feeling, that there’s no weakness in seeking help. You are brave.
You can’t do it by yourself
Ah, this one is the absolute kicker. Repeat after me: you can’t do this alone. It doesn’t matter what ‘this’ is. Whether you’ve had mental health problems in the past, are worried about your mood or behaviour or simply need some help getting through a difficult period in your life, there’s no need to justify it or deal with it all yourself.
If you have an excellent support network of friends and family, that’s fantastic – but professional help can give you the tools and impartiality that your personal support network can’t.
Remember, there’s absolutely no shame in it. You’re doing a great thing for yourself and the people around you.
Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter here.