Mayhem, Misunderstandings, and Mental Health

man at airportA 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:

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. “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.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Pooja Shah, PsyD, Existential Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • harris

    November 13th, 2013 at 12:25 PM

    How many more lives have to be lost before we realize that it is better to ask for help when we are struggling mentally or emotionally than it is to take this out on innocent people? How many more people and families have to be hurt due to this increasing violence and rage that is brewing within so many untreated people? I am so sick of hearing about all of this violence that I am ready to che ck out myself because I just don’t understand the thought processes of so many people today. If you are a friend or a family member of someone like this and you see that they need help, then do the right thing and step in to intervene before more inncocent victims lose their lives to senselessness like this.

  • Ali

    November 14th, 2013 at 4:36 AM

    I hate it when the people who are suffering get all of the blame. Where are those who know them best before all of this happens? Why are they being let down via failure and being ignored by those who know them supposedly the best?

  • Sammi

    November 14th, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    If you feel yourself going over the edge and you are still rational enough to do something about it, then please seek out therapy.
    Don’t worry about what other people are going to think about, who cares? The point is that you are doing something that is right, something good for yourself and that’s a great start for anyone who needs a little push.
    Don’t wait until you reach that final breaking point, because that’s when people get to the point of being irrational and making decisions that could have consequences that could never be righted.

  • laken b

    November 16th, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Many of us are raised to be stoic, and if there is something going on then there is no need to share it, just fix it, work it out.

    I don’t think that everyone is raised in a family like this, there are probably some who discuss every little thing. But think about those families who don’t have that kind of openness and honesty with one another. It would be very hard to be raised one way and then as an adult to confide in them that you thought bsomething is going on with you.

    Sometimes you don’t even know what kind of help to ask for because you are so confused anbout what is going on yourself.

  • Lyris Bacchus

    November 18th, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    Therapy is a last resort instead of a first when people experience emotional and psychological pain. The stigma of mental illness needs to be challenged. If you saw a friend over-eating herself towards obesity you would say something. If only mental illness could be seen just like diabetes or heart disease. Doctors also need to be trained better to do mental health screenings and make referrals to mental health professionals.

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