A few hours after recently traveling out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), I read that there was a shooting there. Once again, a random act of violence leads me to question life, humanity, and how we relate and connect to one another. As in many other cases, the shooter was described as someone who was kind and good. Individuals who knew this person were in shock and disbelief, finding something like this to be uncharacteristic. As is often the case, this individual struggled with mental health. And, as usual, the conversation is geared toward increasing security and gun control.
It feels as though, in recent months, there has been an increase in the number of acts of violence with a mental health underpinning. If so, though, why hasn’t the discussion surrounding mental health changed? What about mental health is so hard to talk about? Can mental health treatment prevent such acts?
In the interests of reducing stigma, let’s address a few of the common fears and misunderstandings about mental health and therapy:
- “If I finally allow myself to be emotional, I will not know how to stop”: This is something I often hear during an initial therapy session. Most people fear that once they start therapy, everything they have been keeping inside will come flooding out and will not abate. In most cases, though, this is not the case. As humans, we are resilient. We develop defense mechanisms and cognitive distortions that help us protect ourselves. Although the goal of therapy is to help individuals recognize these protections, change them, and sometimes even stop using them, this is a slow, gradual process.
- “Only psychotic people need to go to therapy”: Not true. Although we may hear about people seeking mental health services because they are diagnosed with psychosis or schizophrenia, many individuals seek therapy to help address a variety of stressors and difficulties. Many seek therapy to help with major changes and losses in life. It is not necessary to always have a clinical reason to seek therapy.
- “My friends and family will not understand why I am in therapy”: It’s true that some people may not understand why you chose to seek help. However, this might in fact underscore why you may benefit from therapy. If it feels like your support network may not understand why you seek therapy, you may similarly feel that they may not understand your problems and stressors. In which case therapy is a great place to work through things without judgment. If you feel as though you have few people to confide in, you may find yourself feeling resentful; over time, this resentment may build up. It is extremely important to have a place to explore and discuss that resentment in order to limit or prevent negative behaviors.
These are just a few common concerns people have when seeking therapy. When we are struggling physically, it is easy for us to speak to our friends, families, and sometimes strangers about what ails us. The discussion around mental health needs to change. It is not enough to just say you are “fine” or “good” when you are not. If we openly encourage one another to say more rather than merely small talk, we all take a united step forward in opening up discussion and reducing the stigma associated with mental health services.
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