May is Mental Health Awareness Month

In the almost two decades of being a therapist, one common theme has prevailed in the therapy session; clients often report embarrassment, shame or feelings of failure for coming to and needing therapy. I can say this, starting therapy takes a courage. As a psychologist, I am humbled at the strength clients have to reach out for help to work through a problem or issue or simply for support and self-growth. Here is also something to consider, most therapists have sought counseling at some point in their lives; for many therapists, it is part of graduate school training and requirements.

Here are some interesting statistics on mental health prevalence rates according to research by the US government, Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Nearly half of all Americans, approximately 46%, will experience a mental health illness during their life-time.
  • Estimates indicate that people with mental health issues and distress often delay seeking treatment, sometimes for years.
  • Two in five people with a mental health issue seek support from their doctors, when symptoms first appear.
  • Women experience higher rates of depression, anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders than men.

Research compiled from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention include the following statistics:

  • One in ten women of reproductive age had a least one major depressive episode in the past year
  • About half (54%) of women with postpartum depression had depression diagnosed before or during pregnancy.
  • Depression in women often goes undiagnosed and untreated.

According to researchers, Dave, Peterson, Sherr and Nazareth, (2010), who studied maternal and paternal depression, they found:

  • Almost 4% of dads experienced depression in their first year of their child’s life.
  • By the time a child has reached the age of twelve, 21% of fathers will have experienced one or more episodes of depression.
  • Factors which increased a dads chances of experiencing depression included: dads who were young, had a previous history of depression, and financial stress.

Mental health issues are part of life. Managing and taking care of your mental health can occur in many ways; therapy is one component. Working with a trained mental health professional is different from talking to family, friends and co-workers. When you talk to a professional, you can speak freely and openly about your concerns and work on skills and strategies to improve coping and find solutions to the problems you are experiencing.

It is important to remember:

  1. Mental health issues tend to be passed down through biology and genetics. For example, research shows higher rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse/dependence issues if you have a biological relative who has a mental health issue.
  2. Chronic stress and situational stress can lead to the onset of a mental health issue. For example, traumatic experiences can “turn on” the presentation of mental health concerns. I have worked with individuals who have experienced a non-life threatening car accident. Of course, it was upsetting and disruptive. However, my client had a family history of panic disorder and agoraphobia; her grandmother and aunt both experienced generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks. My client was also experiencing significant demands in school and looking into potential jobs. The accident seemed to be one variable that pushed the stress in my client’s life into distress where she was experiencing panic attacks weekly, especially any time she had to drive on the highway.
  3. To be human is to experience stress and a range of emotions. How do we know when normal stress and demands of daily living progresses into something more serious? One difference is the frequency, intensity and duration of the symptoms. Most people have days that are frustrating, filled with irritability, lack of motivation, loss of interest to be social and perhaps feeling tearful. What can push symptoms into a mental health concern is when the symptoms are intense and occur most days, lasting weeks, months or years.
  4. Mental health issues present with a loss of functioning. It is important to keep in mind the experience of living includes a range of positive, neutral and negative experiences and situations. Individuals who have mental health concerns experience a loss of functioning and diminished activity with friends and family, decreased productivity at work, home and school and impaired coping skills.
  5. Reasons to go to therapy whether for yourself, friend, family member is often varied. Individuals, couples and families start therapy for a variety of reasons; for support with a specific issue, problem, situation and for self-growth. clients who start therapy for a specific problem often report many parts of their life are going well, however, living fully is diminished due to one significant problem. Examples include: a phobia of driving on the highway or flying in a plane, hoarding issues, anger issues, marital sand problems with sexual functioning. Many clients begin therapy for a stressful life event; a situation at work that is stressful, a move, death or loss of family member/friend, becoming a parent, having a child, legal and financial issues, and coping with a traumatic event. Individuals also seek support during transitions of life: becoming a parent, returning to work, graduating from school, getting married or divorced, coping with retirement, caring for aging parents, and at the onset of a medical diagnosis. Many clients seek therapy for self-growth. People in this category seek support to explore and further understand a part of their personal history to improve current living. 

How to find a therapist:

  1. Referrals from friends, family and primary care physicians, ob-gyns/ nurse practitioners, psychiatrists.
  2. Online websites, such as Psychology Today, has an index of providers in the United States. You can type in your zip code and other selection criteria to find a therapist in your area.
  3. Call or visit your health insurance provider website and find therapists within insurance network.

Coming into therapy is not a failure. It takes a significant amount of strength and courage to start the process. To make the call, schedule the appointment, fill out paperwork and then share the most intimate details of your life takes strength and courage. Whatever the reason is for wanting to start therapy, I hope you see the take away; people start therapy for a variety of reasons. Therapy is meant to be a supportive place with a trained professional who can work with you to help you solve problems and increase well-being and overall healthy functioning.

© Copyright Dr. Claire Nicogossian 2014


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