Recently, a dear friend of mine reluctantly made the decision to seek professional help. I was very proud of them but I was also saddened that it had taken them so long to recognise that they needed/deserved help. It got me thinking about the barriers that prevent us from asking for help; not just professional help but also from our loved ones. So I started asking around. I chatted to friends and peers about the reasons they sometimes keep their troubles to themselves and I would like to share some of the common trends with you all. My hope for this post, and for everything I share on this blog, is that it is relatable whilst also being informative. So without further adieu, let’s discuss some of the reasons seeking help can be so incredibly difficult.
‘Sometimes it’s hard to recognise that it is a problem’
When we are stuck in maladaptive thought patterns our unhappy thoughts can become our new normal. We can be struggling for so long with these issues that it just feels like part of our day-day routine to be unhappy. It is easy then to begin to believe that we have always been this way, we always will be this way and perhaps most damning, that we deserve to be this way. When this circular logic accompanies mental health struggles it can become very difficult to recognise that you need help. Survival becomes the default mode with thriving being so unimaginable that is seems futile to even consider getting help. There is no problem, I am fine.
‘Others are worse off than me’
It is not uncommon for people to think they must be at the complete end of their wits to warrant help. They fail to recognise that asking for a bit of assistance to get through their daily struggles isn’t a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. People often convince themselves that they are not quite bad enough to get help, and that they will do it eventually when it gets to a certain point but they aren’t there yet. This is a particularly dangerous thought pattern as it can lead to everything imploding upon the individual because they have buried it for so long. Ultimately, this comes down to a question of self worth. Do I deserve help/love?
‘Nobody will understand’
Mental illness or general mental health difficulties can be extremely isolating. We feel so alone. So utterly alone. The nature of the beast convinces us that we are different to other people at the core, we are wrong in some vital way that makes us unreachable. Nobody could possibly understand us. Our mental health issues make us feel distant from the rest of society, partially because of the stigma associated (more on that later) and the funny thing is that re-engaging with the society we feel fundamentally different from is the best thing for us. Easier said than done, but I promise you, people understand and cherish you.
‘I don’t want people to see my at my worst’
Related to the above idea of people not understanding is the concept that loved ones will not survive seeing us in all of our glory. This is perhaps the area where I am most guilty. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you might be surprised seeing as I seem so open about my struggles with Bipolar disorder. But I only do that on my own terms. I’m the type of person that when a friend asks me how I am I might say ‘I’m moving on up now, but I’ve spent the last two weeks trying not to kill myself’ and then I laugh, shrugging it off. I never call people for help when I am in my most dire states because, I’m ashamed to admit, I want them to think I am strong and that I can handle it; I am impenetrable. I know there are other people like me out there and we need to learn to trust those we love and give them all of ourselves, warts and all.
‘We are taught to be hard’
So as it turns out I’m not the only person who feels the pressure to be strong. We are taught from a young age to handle our own business and to keep what hurts us private. Our culture expects us to grind on through life’s troubles like machines who do not feel and do not hurt. Consequently, there is a shame associated with admitting that we might be struggling.
‘I was hurt once’
This is was perhaps the most upsetting response I came across when discussing this topic with people. Many people have been scarred because of that one time years ago, when they built up the courage to ask for help, they were rejected. They may have been confronted by the areas discussed above, told to harden up or had their experiences patronised. This response conditions people to expect rejection and to question the worth in ever seeking help again. This can cause them to go a long time without the assistance they need, often until things reach breaking point.
‘I don’t want people to think I’m crazy’
This stigma surrounding mental illness is undeniable. Despite how common mental illness is there is still an overwhelming belief that having a mental illness makes one abnormal or unworthy. People may go years without seeking help rather than risk being categorised as having a mental illness. I believe many of the other areas discussed above relate to stigma. For instance, we believe ‘nobody will understand’ because the stigma of having a mental illness casts you off from the rest of society. Stigma is a huge barrier to seeking help, especially from professionals. This is a serious issue as friends, whilst being great for support, are not equipped with the skills or training to best respond to mental health crises.
As difficult as seeking help can seem, it is always worth while. We are social beings and we do better with the support of others. It is amazing the difference a little smile from a friend or a few reassuring words from a therapist can make. I am a big believer in connectivity between people as a powerful game changer in both work and personal circumstances. I am a much healthier, happier and more productive person because of the people around me. I may not be perfect at seeking help yet but every time I do I am thankful I did.