May is Mental Health Awareness Month and in honor of that, today’s blog is all about dispelling the stigma of mental health. History of mental health care has not been pretty, especially for immigrants, people of color, unmarried mothers, and the disabled. “Cures” targeted these specific populations and often involved eugenics and forced sterilization. By the early 20th century, treatments for mental illness were being developed by doctors which included electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which induced seizures in people through a series of electrical shocks. This treatment targeted those with schizophrenia, manic depression, and other illnesses, and often times were used on non-consenting individuals. In 1927, insulin shock therapy was developed as a cure for schizophrenia, which led to weight gain and even permanent brain damage for some individuals. Lobotomies became popular in the United States, developed by Antonio Egas Moniz, and involved severing the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the rest of the brain by drilling through the skull. Between all of these appalling treatments, lack of ethics, and lack of proper housing/funding/care for those in need—it is no wonder mental health obtained a bad reputation, especially throughout the 20th century. Although there continues to be systemic issues in mental health care, treatment has come a long way from these barbaric times. We now have a better understanding of mental health and there are systems in place that protect those in need of care.
Not only has mental health care had a rocky past, but stigma has also been an on-going issue when it comes to mental health and what it entails. There are many myths out there and they may be a present barrier for those in need of care. Here are a few common misconceptions that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has recognized:
Myth #1: People with Mental Health Conditions are “Scary” and “Violent”
The idea that society should fear people suffering from mental conditions because of a propensity for violence could not be further from the actual truth. Study after study shows that individuals with mental health conditions are far more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetuate it.
Myth #2: Prescription Medication is the Only Way to Treat Mental Health Conditions
Medications can be helpful for treating certain mental health conditions, but that depends on the client and their history. Pharmaceutical treatments seem to work best when used in conjunction with therapy, support groups, and self-help. Also, prescription medication is not for everyone, and many clients show improved symptoms without the use of medication.
Myth #3: People with Mental Health Conditions are “Crazy”
People once associated mental health issues with someone in a straight-jacket or someone who is severely disturbed. Nowadays, most people understand that when someone is suffering with mental health issues, many of the symptoms are invisible. Having a mental health condition does not mean you are “crazy.” It means you are vulnerable. It means you are experiencing some challenging symptoms; sometimes these symptoms are temporary, and sometimes they are more long-term. While mental conditions might alter your thinking, destabilize your moods or skew your perception of reality, that doesn’t mean you are “crazy.” It means you are human and are susceptible to negative cognitions and feelings, the same as any other person.
Myth #4: If I go to therapy, I am going to be expected to lay on a couch and talk about my childhood
While this may have been true in the mid-1900s, the majority of therapists today do not utilize psychodynamic/Freudian approaches. Instead, more and more therapists tend to focus on the present, as well as creating productive goals for the future. It may be beneficial to figure out where a current problem stems from, but it does not mean the entire therapy process needs to be focused on the past. It may not always be beneficial to focus on problems, a lot of times therapists help clients find strengths and solutions to focus on instead.
So, what exactly is mental health and what sort of benefits can people expect out of seeking therapy these days?
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.” - U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Here are some benefits:
1) You will learn more about yourself. This is your time to tell your story and therapists are there to help you make connections between present and past behaviors. Therapists might make suggestions or offer guidance, but they don’t tell you what actions to take. They help empower you to make your own healthy choices.
2) Therapy can help you stay goal-oriented. Many people choose to start therapy because they have specific goals they are working towards. Perhaps it is overcoming a toxic pattern of getting into dysfunctional relationships, or maybe it is learning how to overcome negative thought patterns. Whatever goals you have, therapists can help you achieve them. And if you aren’t sure what your goals are, therapy can help you understand them and take steps towards completing them.
3) Therapy can help you have more meaningful relationships with others. Therapy can help you develop skills to navigate interpersonal problems, uncover attachment styles, set healthy boundaries, and address difficulties with relating to others. If you are struggling with insecurities or trust, have a “mother wound”, or feel isolated from people in general—therapy can help you get to the root of these issues.
Here at 253 Therapy and Consult, we have a mission to help break the stigma. If you are ready to talk openly about mental health and how you may benefit from starting therapy, please call us today! As always, we are here for you!