There have been periods in my life when I have sought out the services of a therapist. Even given what I’m about to say, I still feel a slight bit of shame admitting that. Will you think there is something wrong with me? Will you think I was weak to not be able to handle a life challenge by myself? Am I being judged right now?
And as those fears bubble to the surface of my mind, they evaporate as I remember why I saw a therapist. I was in my early 20’s and in a period of emotional turmoil. While I prefer not to expound on what that entailed, I can tell you I was ill-equipped to handle the emotions I felt and the stress that ensued. Fortunately, my low-paying entry-level job had fantastic benefits and I took advantage of them.
After one failed visit with a therapist who I can only hope is now in therapy herself, I found someone who walked me through how to confront my demons. While it took a few years to fully heal, I can tell you I would not be where I am today without her help. I don’t believe I’d be in a healthy marriage, or have a solid relationship with my children, or perhaps even gainful employment.
But thousands of people don’t make the choice I did, or can’t. Access to mental health care isn’t easy to come by for everyone — either because of financial barriers or geographic ones in more rural communities. Beyond that, there’s the stigma of seeking help.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I challenge you all to celebrate your courage if you’ve sought the services of a mental health professional, and to challenge your stereotypes about people who seek help. Beyond that, it’s time to encourage our lawmakers to restore funding cut in last year’s budget — $262 million to be exact — for mental health services for the uninsured or underinsured.
I have hope that might happen in this budget session since Governor McCrory took a break from signing legislation that policed our bathrooms and actually created a Task Force on Mental Health. I’m cautiously optimistic that this is more than just a great PR effort.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults experience some form of mental illness each year. I don’t doubt this, but I do doubt they are all under the care of a professional. When I think of my mental state when I was struggling, and consider the fact it paled in comparison to what others are experiencing, I’m frightened for the impact untreated mental illness and substance abuse has on our society.
I’m not speaking in hypotheticals. Think of the regular instances of people acting out in violent and dangerous ways. Think of the homeless people you walk by on the street muttering to themselves. Then consider the potential of those lives if whatever was tormenting them was addressed. We owe this to ourselves as a society to embrace and accept mental health treatment and the people who need it.