Where to Start: Mental Health in a Changing World

GoodTherapy | Where to Start: Mental Health in a Changing WorldMay is Mental Health Awareness Month, and there’s no better way to start it off than taking the first step in seeking help or assisting those who would like to start counseling. Doing so raises awareness and helps break down negative, long-held beliefs — many of them untrue — about what it means to attend therapy, whether as an individual, couple, or family.  

For those new to the process, and understandably ambivalent, let’s discuss how you can play a key role in changing societal attitudes toward mental health — even before you even sit in a therapist’s office — and what contributes both positively and negatively to our mental state, and how to go about finding counselor suited to your needs.   

Create Awareness 

Fortunately or unfortunately — depending on how you look at it — we are always connected, digitally at least. Our smartphones ensure we are only a couple clicks away from responding to a bombardment of text messages, staying up-to-date on current events, responding to work emails, or coordinating your kids’ carpool schedule.   

And work pressures remain one of the top stressors in our lives. A Gallup poll showed that U.S. workers report feeling the highest levels of stress, with 57% of respondents stating they feel stressed on a daily basis, even though almost half feel there is a stigma around talking about mental health in the workplace.   

While we surely have more convenient lives in many respects, in other ways, life stressors have become more omnipresent, with the separation between work and home life increasingly muddied. 

We may think this is just how life is — going through the motions, checking things off the to-do list — but if the last decade of heavy smartphone use has taught us anything, it’s that the hyper-connected world we live in is not necessarily better for our mental health. In fact, some studies have found a positive correlation between increased digitization and symptoms of anxiety and depression.  

That flies in the face of the myth that you should have experienced a particularly tragic event to need therapy. To the contrary, many who find they are experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety are dealing with a more insidious form of such conditions, ones which are the product of a variety of external factors we often deem positive — working long hours, access to innovative technology and overabundance of material goods. While all these have positive aspects to them, they sometimes prevent us from being present and checking in with ourselves emotionally.  

Behavior and Attitude 

Lots of progress has been made in de-stigmatizing mental illness and therapy, but more work remains. Current attitudes often vary greatly depending on gender, age, cultural background, religion, socioeconomic status, and upbringing. For instance, data from the American Psychological Association shows the greatest increases in unmet need for mental health services were among Latino and Asian populations, as well as those identifying with two or more races. And women also tend to seek mental health services at higher rates than men.  

Never before have U.S. companies been so generous with offering employees mental health days — rather than just sick days — as well as added benefits, such as subscriptions to meditation apps and mindfulness coaching.  

The more therapy and mental health conditions are discussed openly and honestly, the less alone people will feel seeking therapy. And we intuitively understand that the less lonely individuals feel about the struggles they’re enduring, the less likely they are to suppress it. 

But because different demographics and groups of people view therapy differently, it’s particularly valuable for those harboring particularly stubborn stigmas to take the courageous step of seeking help and discussing it with trusted family members and friends, as well as creating more diverse representation in the field of mental health.   

Starting Therapy 

Starting therapy, whether it’s with a new therapist or your first-ever experience, can feel overwhelming. After all, the reasons you’re seeking counseling are likely accompanied by feelings of vulnerability, discomfort, or even shame. But the process doesn’t have to be stressful.  

Know why you are seeking therapy 

There may be a defining event that was the genesis of certain symptoms or feelings of despair, anxiety, anger or depression. But it’s also likely you can’t pinpoint specific moments. It’s important to understand what you hope to get out of therapy, as well as what you’re currently experiencing, regardless of how familiar you are with the underlying causes.  For example, a husband and wife may not quite understand why they are fighting on a regular basis, but pinpointing what they hope to get out of therapy — a healthier relationship less riddled with accusatory remarks and assumptions — is a good first step. For both couples and individuals, it’s important to seek change, especially internally, and understand what you hope to get out of therapy.  

Identify important traits and experience 

Woman who struggled with ADHD burnout talking to her therapistThere are some logistical considerations to take into account, including insurance coverage or whether you prefer face-to-face or teletherapy. Each option has its pros and cons, and it will come down to your own personal comfort level. But depending on your financial situation and benefits, be sure to research what your bill will look like for both types of sessions.  

From there, it’s helpful to consider a therapist’s traits and experience you’d find particularly compatible. For some, working with a mental health professional who has worked with clients struggling with substance abuse disorder is critical. Or perhaps seeing someone who shares a similar cultural background or religion is important. Gender can also play a role, as research has shown that nearly 70% of female clients prefer a counselor of the same sex.  

Use online directory tools like GoodTherapy 

Even after taking all of these factors into account, people often abandon the search once it feels difficult and time-consuming. After all, someone seeking a therapist is often already feeling overwhelmed, and meeting regularly with professionals who don’t seem like a good fit is draining and demotivating.  

To lessen those chances, and before meeting one-on-one with any available therapist who happens to accept your insurance, use online directory tools like GoodTherapy to filter your search for criteria that are important to you.  

You can also refer to the GoodTherapy guide for a more robust breakdown of what to expect out of therapy and how to start the process.  

Be an Advocate 

You don’t have to be a mental health professional or have a large social media following to be an advocate for therapy and mental health. Anyone can make a commitment to check in more with loved ones.  

Four ways to check-in: 

  • Ask to meet up or schedule a time to call 
  • Express gratitude for your relationship/friendship  
  • Send a message that lets them know they’re on your mind 
  • Follow up about something they’ve previously discussed with you  

Remember, small interactions like this play an outsize role in de-stigmatizing mental health conditions, including depression or anxiety. And showing support for counseling and professional help also goes a long way. After all, nine out of ten people have said that stigma and discrimination have impacted their lives when it comes to mental health.  

Make sure your loved ones know where to find therapists that can respond to their needs and know that getting help is the first step toward a more fulfilling life. 

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