“Oh my gosh, you’ll never guess what my therapist told me this morning!”
There we were, 3 professionals at work all comparing notes on what we’ve been learning in therapy like we were debriefing the latest episode of Game of Thrones. It was commonplace for us now; we acknowledge that therapy is an important component of our wellness and our office culture supports open conversations regarding mental health. I’ve been learning a lot lately about normalizing mental health in my own life as well as professionally. I began weekly therapy 2 years ago when coping with postpartum anxiety and depression, and still see my therapist weekly for maintenance. I’ve learned a lot about myself and built the skills I need to process the world around me in a healthy way. That hour each week is self care for me. I’m a better mom, wife, and friend because of it.
I’ve realized that mental health, medication and therapy still, in 2019, carry significant stigma. We think mental health means someone is “crazy” or inherently dangerous. We think therapy is Dr. Katz with a legal pad while you lay on a couch and talk about your childhood. We think medication is for weak people.
Pardon my french, my dear readers, but that’s a load of crap.
Whether or not we know it, conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other diagnoses (and entire spectrums of diagnoses) are super common among our family and friends. Our words carry tremendous weight and how we interact with those around us either free people from the shame they may feel around their diagnosis or drive them deeper into it. I’ve heard my fair share of misconceptions from both well-meaning people and jerks alike regarding mental health.
Let me dispel a few myths for you:
- Myth: Medication is a magic pill or a cure-all
- Fact: Medication does not magically fix a person. For example, in cases of depression and anxiety, the brain is misfiring and certain chemicals are not dancing together as they should. Medication corrects these chemicals in the brain so the person can use their coping skills to manage their symptoms. Medication can ease certain symptoms in other conditions (hallucinations, mania, etc), but medication is not a magic fix.
- Myth: Therapy is for weak people. All you do is talk about your feelings.
- Fact: In my not-so-humble opinion, it takes far more courage to face your demons and trust another human being with your secrets than it does to stuff things down and pretend your pain doesn’t bother you. Therapy is about both processing your emotions and building skills to manage them in a healthy way. There are so many forms of therapy. Traditional talk therapy can be adapted to the client and relies on practicing any one of several major theories. Other therapies like EMDR are incredibly helpful in helping people process trauma and to reprogram the brain to process stimuli differently. If one form doesn’t work for you, find another. If you just can’t jive with one therapist, find another. Also, a free tip: therapists are incredibly human and deal with their own issues, so your issues probably won’t scare them.
- Myth: People with psychiatric/mental health issues are dangerous.
- Fact: Catch me before coffee? Eh, maybe. But most folks are just trying to have a good quality of life while their brains are in a blender. Yes, there are cases where people with psychiatric issues have been violent, but it is far more common to see someone with antisocial personality disorders committing violent crimes. Most people with psychiatric illnesses are contributing members of society who live delightfully normal lives. We are your friends, mothers, daughters, employees, and partners.
We are finally getting to a place in our culture where we can actually talk about mental health rather than whispering about it, or labeling people as “crazy” who don’t conform. If we can talk about heart disease and cancer without shame, we can make the leap to talking about mental health as well.
As my therapist said to me this morning: “we’re all a little crazy”
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