May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is a designated time each year to pay attention to and prioritize our mental health. 1 in 5 Americans report experiencing symptoms related to mental illness, and that number is growing. One of the best, yet stigmatized, ways to care for our mental health is engaging in therapy.
Therapy is for everyone—no “ifs, ands, or buts” about it. Therapy is not a punishment, and it is not a consequence for behavior. Therapy is not a shameful last resort. Therapy is a safe space to process and heal. It is a tool to learn more about ourselves, find our strength, and improve our shortcomings. Therapy is a place to show authenticity, genuineness, and honesty. That sounds…relieving, doesn’t it? Maybe nerve-wracking? Even scary, for some?
We might see messages that tell us we’re weak for going to therapy. Our family or friends might judge us. We might even judge ourselves. “Do I really need it?” “I’ll be just fine,” “They can’t tell me what I don’t already know,” “I don’t need help.” The stigma surrounding taking care of our mental health is present and unfortunately, still very real. This stigma holds people back from getting the help they want and need. Something a bit more difficult to identify than blatant judgment or stigma is the notion that if we’re positive enough or that if we try hard enough, we can do it ourselves and we don’t need help. Toxic positivity is dangerous and, again, supports the ideation that getting help makes us weak or signals we’re not putting enough effort into something.
Let’s rewrite that script, here: It takes courage and openness to ask for help. It takes strength to go meet a stranger who tells you they won’t judge you, and then to spill the inner workings of your mind. It takes strength to admit when you’re having a tough time, to look at yourself and say, “What can I do better?” “I am struggling,” “I am learning,” “I am trying.” Therapy is not easy! Remember—therapy does not make you weak or mean that you failed. That notion is simply not true.
How do we know when we can benefit from going to therapy? Here’s what to pay attention to and what to look out for:
· Changes in mood: We might be feeling more sad, anxious, irritable, or angry than usual. Maybe these emotions are sticking around longer than expected. Therapy can be a great way to help us take a deeper look at what could be contributing to changes in our mood. A therapist can help you identify, process, and manage strong feelings that we haven’t had experience coping with before.
· Going through a life transition: While they’re part of life, transitions take a HUGE impact on our mental health. Meeting with a therapist to prepare for, process, and cope with a transition can be invaluable. A life transition can be anything—a few examples are moving, graduating, starting a job or school, getting married, getting divorced, having a child, beginning something new, ending something familiar. Transitions, both good and bad, make life a little bumpy and therapy can help.
· Not feeling or behaving like oneself: Have you noticed you’ve been feeling just a bit “off” or engaging in behaviors that aren’t normally typical for you? Are you more disengaged, or acting out in ways that could be dangerous? If we’re feeling like or behaving in ways that are concerning, talking with a therapist can help gain insight into what could be contributing to these changes.
· Experiencing a challenge, hardship, or trauma: While we are resilient, we do experience and are affected by things that are life-altering and traumatic. Trauma can have serious implications for our mental health and overall daily functioning. This is especially important to pay attention to because without proper mental health care, we can prevent growth that can come from these experiences. Therapy does not have to come during, or even directly after an event has taken place. It’s important to note that we might not be prepared for therapy, and we can take the time we need. Therapy is available when you are in a place to heal and feel safe to do so.
· Self-reflection: Sometimes we may not have an exact reason to go to therapy, but we are ready to dive deeper into ourselves and learn more about who we are. Self-reflection is an important part of the human experience, and having a therapist with you to explore, ask questions, and hold you accountable can greatly aid in the process.
· Getting ready for growth: Some people enjoy going to therapy to maintain the progress they’ve made and want help taking it to the next level. We may have done a lot of growing on our own and want to seek professional support to continue upward mobility. Keep in mind that setback are normal and growth is not linear. Even when we’re doing “well,” it can benefit us to get a professional’s point of view.
Therapy is a resource that can help us through all of life’s challenges. Therapy is not designed to be one size fits all. It’s important to find the therapist and type of therapy that is best suited for you and what you’re experiencing. Take time this May to prioritize your mental health and listen to what you need. It takes strength to ask for help, and you’ll be so happy you did. Therapy is for everyone, and that also means you!