When someone falls we have been taught that the proper thing to do is to grab their hand and help them up; the same goes for when we fall, there is a certain expectation that if someone is around they will help. However, as we age, situations become more complex. Helping and being helped can turn into something far more involved than an outstretched hand. This is especially true when someone you know, someone you love, or even yourself is the person who has fallen, and as the journey to your feet becomes more difficult, sometimes one helping hand isn’t enough; sometimes you need the strength of a professional. Think of it this way, you can’t fight a house fire with a garden hose no matter how many people are holding on to it, you need to call the fire department because they have the right equipment and can help you save your home.
In the beginning of every psychology class I have ever taken the message is the same; before we get into the material the professor makes sure to say “It is ok to seek help. If you are having problems or if you start to identify with different parts of the course material, don’t be afraid to speak to me and I will point you in the right direction.” This simple statement seems like something that should be common sense to everyone, there is no doubt in my mind that people know it, but the most striking part of that statement is that it is vocalized.
Why is this striking? Surely it isn’t particularly strange to talk about therapy or seeing a psychologist. In fact everyone is bound to know at least one person who is seeing someone right now. But, the truth is, as much as people want to pretend it doesn’t exist, there is something called a “stigma” associated with psychology which prevents many people from talking about their journey, or from seeking help in the first place. A stigma, for those of you who do not know, is defined as “A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person,” and it is very real.
Psychology has been around for quite some time now, there have been amazing advances made, especially in the world of neuroscience. We have a better understanding of people, their behaviors and how the brain works; this understanding translates into a huge number of treatment options that can lead very constructively to progress. But, there is a problem, those outside of the psychological community are not always aware of these advances, their knowledge of therapy comes from old tales of quackery and mysticism in which snake oil salesmen are just trying to take your money. Not only that, but there is an even larger number of people who are afraid of the social repercussions that come along with admitting they need help. These people are afraid of what loved ones may think, or that acquaintances and friends may abandon them, they fear the reactions associated with bringing their problems into the open, and truth be told, their fears are not completely unfounded.
People find comfort in their everyday lives and routines, they don’t like to be disturbed or challenged. As much as everyone hates to admit it there is a certain level of truth here. This creates a disconnect; when someone reaches out for help or brings to light that they are having a problem or internal conflict, it challenges the routine. While challenging the everyday may not be the biggest problem, the surfacing of something that people don’t know how to handle is. The idea of not knowing what to do is frightening to many, they would rather just shut it out, blame something else, or may even become angry or hysterical.
These types of coping mechanisms aren’t effective at producing change but make many of us feel better in the short term. Externalizing a problem makes it someone else’s; it’s flying around somewhere in space, somewhere where you don’t have to deal with it. People are afraid that it could have been something they did, or that they should have done, they are afraid of what others will think, and they are afraid of “what if there is something wrong with me/us/them.” Accepting the existence of a problem is hard, becoming involved is oftentimes scary, and that’s ok! Things may never go back to being the same, and maybe we don’t know what to do, but either we learn from the experience or we bottle it up, pretend it doesn’t exist, and sit around wondering why nothing gets better.
This is a huge obstacle for those who need the help. They don’t know what is going to happen or if those who they involve will know what to do. Depending on what’s going on in someone’s life they may need different levels of social and emotional support. They may reach out only to watch the helping hand withdraw, or simply reach without knowing where. It is important to be able to grab that hand, and even if we don’t know where to go from there we hold tightly and take the journey together.
Sometimes, those who are in trouble choose not to reach out; there is an incredibly large list of reasons for this which would take an extremely long time to discuss. A few of these reasons have already been mentioned, but we certainly haven’t even touched on a small number of them.
First and foremost, one of the most important things for those who have come to the conclusion that they have a problem to know (which should live in the minds of everyone from a young age) is that “IT’S OK TO HAVE A PROBLEM!” Having a problem doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you an embarrassment, and it doesn’t diminish who you are. Really, the worst thing you can do is nothing. Imagine you get a big cut on your arm; you need to go see your mom or a doctor to get it cleaned up and healed, instead you chose to ignore it. What happens then? The cut only gets worse the more you ignore it, the same goes for your mind and your life.
Having a cut doesn’t mean that you are a bad person, but if you wait too long to treat it you may wind up with a scar and if you chose never to treat it there may come a point where it’s too late to do anything. This brings us back to where we started, namely “IT’S OK TO SEEK HELP!” There may be a very large number of people with an even larger number of feelings about seeking help, but as we already discussed doing nothing is worse than doing something. Professional people exist with the sole purpose of helping those who need a strong hand to grab onto. You may think that what you’re feeling isn’t so bad or isn’t important enough to take up another person’s time, but that isn’t true in the least. Each person is special and important in their own way, maybe it’s hard to see, or maybe societal pressures are forcing you to think otherwise, but it’s true. The only way you waste a professional’s time is by not seeking them out.
It may be challenging to admit that there is something wrong; part of you may think that just because it isn’t out in the open it isn’t real. It is almost too easy to bottle something up and go along with your day sometimes. Seeking help may seem like a difficult step, something large, distant and daunting, but as they say “if you never take the first step you’ll never make it to the top of the staircase.” There are certainly many struggles on the way to emotional and mental health, depending on what prompted someone to seek help the road to progress may be long and rocky. But, the best thing you can do for yourself and for those you love is to attempt to seek out the problem and fix it. You wouldn’t leave a leaky pipe in your house unfixed, nor should you leave a leaky brain in your head.
Seeking help is a huge step for many and is usually only the beginning of a long process. It is important that when you are ready to take that step it is because you want to. Internal and external change can only be effected by your own efforts and your own willingness to confront yourself and progress. Finding a therapist is as easy as looking under “Happiness” on the TimetoPlay.com project, at the back of a health insurance card and calling the number, or doing a Google search, but be forewarned, finding the RIGHT therapist CAN be difficult, they are not a one size fits all commodity. Try talking to a doctor, or if you feel comfortable doing so a parent, relative, significant other or trusted friend to help you embark on your journey. Self healing isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, and oftentimes there are many obstacles to overcome, but no person deserves to be in an unhealthy situation or state of mind. Overcoming may seem like an impossible task but rest assured, it’s not, there are a huge number of professionals and support groups aimed at helping people and their loved ones in times of trouble. So never forget: “IT’S OK TO HAVE A PROBLEM” and “IT’S OK TO SEEK HELP.”