Years ago, my twins, they were confused about what I did for work. They understood, I am called ‘Dr,’ but I am not a physician. They knew I could help people to feel better and heal, but I don’t give shots or medicine or fix broken bones. I found a concrete way to help them understand my work. I shared: I am ‘Dr’ who helps people solve problems and a teacher who teaches people how to take care of themselves. They understood it!
Because no matter what age you are, we all can understand and relate to having problems and needing to take care of ourselves!
While this may seem an overly simple way of describing the work of a psychologist or mental health provider, they understood the work I do. One thing I am sure of, as we raise our daughters-they understand the importance of taking care of their mental health and well-being with the same ease as our physical health. As the girls have grown, the conversations about mental health are far from simple as it was so many years ago!
As a psychologist, writer, and mom, I spend a lot of time talking about, advocating and normalizing mental health issues. I’m incredibly passionate about creating a dialogue encouraging a shift in our culture, to see mental health not as something separate, but part of the whole experience of what it means to be human.
As a society, we’re quite comfortable embracing the physical aspects of ourselves and less comfortable with emotional and mental health and well-being. And the reality is, the physical, mental, emotional parts of ourselves are so intertwined, influencing and impacting one another.
The encouraging shift I have seen in the past twenty years is the progress of research, therapy treatments, and information shared, making mental health less of a stigma. But there is still more we can do, starting with being compassionate and understanding that mental health issues need to be addressed and taken care of, and a great place to start is with therapy. I would love to see mental health check-ins and therapy sessions part of the norm in healthcare, just as annual physicals are encouraged.
Here are seven reasons to encourage taking care of your mental health and well-being:
We Suffer from Symptoms Before We Get Help. On average, by the time a person reaches out and share mental health symptoms to a primary care physician or a mental health professional, the symptom has been present and part of a person’s life for approximately 18 months-yes, you heard this correctly! In other words, a vast majority of clients who share mental health symptoms with a medical provider, have had those symptoms such as worry, depression, anger, phobias for example, and learned to live with those symptoms, for a year and a half!!! The impact of living with distressing symptoms can impact work (and/ or school), social relationships, and overall enjoyment of day to day activities.
Research on Mental Health is Relatively New to Science. Behavioral health, mental health, and psychology are relatively new fields. Within the last century, some mental health issues were seen not as biological or stress-related issues or lack of support, but rather CHARACTER issues. Meaning, if a person had mental health issues, it was seen as a character weakness, such as not being ‘strong’ or ‘disciplined’ or having solid ‘morals.’ Thankfully, through research, medical advances and understanding of the brain and science as it applies to mental health, we understand mental health issues have little to do with character and more to do with science, genetics, life experiences, coping strategies, and emotional support.
Does Therapy Treat Symptoms or Teaching Behaviors to Increase Well-Being? When I started graduate school, the focus in training programs (clinical and counseling psychology) was treating the symptoms of mental health disorders and diagnosis; the goal was to take away the symptom. Decades later, a new focus emerged in part through a branch of theory research, Positive Psychology. Instead of soley focusing on taking symptoms away for those with mental health issues, Positive Psychology introduced a movement of focusing on keeps people healthy, happy, enjoying life. Positive Psychologists shifted the paradigm symptoms in mental health by focusing on well-being and the traits, behaviors, and habits that keep people healthy and happy.
Seeking Therapy is a Sign of Strength, Not Failure. Going to therapy is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength, vulnerability, and an important self-care skill. In my two decades plus of experience, I have observed, those who seek therapy, throughout their lifetime for stress, or life transitions, or self-growth, are mentally strong, healthy, and happier. There is a belief that if you need therapy or go to therapy, this means you have a weakness or something wrong with you. I disagree entirely. I have seen in my years of practice, that those who seek therapy and engage in the process have incredible strength, and an ability to be vulnerble, and a willingness to improve their well-being.
Therapy/Counseling means Years and Years of Sessions. There are some theoretical orientations and philosophies (and mental health issues) requiring more intensive treatment. The amount of therapy a person needs to treat a problem is varied and individualized for the client. For example, a person who has a simple phobia and is not able to drive over bridges is going to have a different treatment plan compared to a client who is coming into therapy to work through sexual trauma or another who recently lost a spouse. Therapy is influenced by many factors: the symptoms and diagnosis, the goals of the client, access to services, and out of pocket costs vs. insurance coverage. Not to mention, many people engage in therapy because of a curiosity to understand oneself better, which I frame as a self-growth model of therapy.
Mental Health Issues are Common. Chances are you, or a family member or friend have experienced a mental health issue at some point in your life. Statistically, at some point in your life, you will experience a mental health issue. Here are some basic facts about mental health:
- 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
- 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. (2)
- Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. (3)
- 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia.(4)
- 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder.(5)
- 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. (6)
- 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and specific phobias.(7)
- Among the 20.2 million adults in the U.S. who experienced a substance use disorder, 50.5%—10.2 million adults—had a co-occurring mental illness.(8)
You Don’t Need to Be in Crisis to Take Care of Yourself. Circling back to the statistic that on average a person waits on average eighteen months to seek help for a mental health symptom that is distressing, you don’t have to be in crisis to take care of yourself. So many people I work with, delay and wait to get help or intervention after a life event or issue. One of the greatest acts of care you can give yourself is to take care of your health and well-being, which includes your mental health. Establishing yourself with a mental health provider to help you understand and take care of yourself is an incredible gift of self-care.
Remember, you matter so very much! Make your mental health and your self-care a priority!
© Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2019
Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2015, Any Disorder Among Children. (n.d.) Retrieved January 16, 2015, Schizophrenia. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2015,Bipolar Disorder Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2015, Major Depression Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2015, Any Anxiety Disorder Among Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved January 16, 2015, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-50, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4927. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Retrieved October 27, 2015