Reducing the Stigma of Going to See a Mental Health Therapist

By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

Many people remain confused about very basic facts and information regarding mental health concerns.  One important fact about mental illness is that it is not rare. Nearly every one of us is affected by mental health issues directly or indirectly. Another fact is that the majority of people who have mental health issues respond effectively to intervention, leading productive and satisfying lives. Many people assume that people with mental illness will never get better.  The fact is that most mental health diagnoses are not cured at this time, but they are typically managed very effectively with a variety of psychological treatments.  Many people choose a combination of both therapy and medications which is often proven to be the most effective intervention for some of the more serious and persistent mental illnesses. 

The fact is that treatment effectiveness is dependent on multiple factors just like any other medical illness. The severity of mental illness and the needs of the particular individual involved impact the success of treatment in the short term and the long term.   Social supports, resources, and commitment and compliance with treatment recommendations also impact effectiveness.

Some people question whether there is a genetic connection to mental illness. The fact is that some mental health issues include a genetic component which means that there is a genetic predisposition toward the illness in close blood relatives such as children or siblings of the person with the illness.  However, simply living in the same environmental circumstances with someone with mental illness can also increase the risk of mental health issues for other people in that environment.  It is important to note, though, that people can develop resilience and compensate in a number of ways to these vulnerabilities, including early mental health treatment and social supports.

There is a common assumption that people with mental illness are violent and reckless. The fact is that some people who suffer from some specific mental health issues do commit egregious acts, but, having a mental health diagnosis in itself does not automatically mean that a person would behave criminally or violently.  The fact is that people with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than to behave violently or aggressively toward others;  AND, if they are in active treatment or have received effective therapy and support, the risk to harm themselves is drastically reduced.

Another common assumption is that stress causes mental illness. The fact is that research is indicating that there are multiple sources of the “cause” of a mental illness. Researchers state that it is a complicated combination of biological, hereditary, social and environmental factors, psychological, and influences of cultural and spiritual factors as well.

The fact is that mental health includes how a person feels, behaves, and thinks in different situations. A mental health therapist and a psychiatrist treat mental illness.  Going to a mental health therapist or a psychiatrist is similar to going to a medical specialist for any other medical problem. They will establish a trusting and non-judgmental relationship with you to discuss your symptoms, your situation, and your treatment needs.  The therapist does not assume you have mental illness, but evaluates whether there is reason to diagnose an illness. The therapist only knows that something is troubling you based on the fact that you have scheduled an appointment. The fact is that the therapist’s job is to help you understand what is going on and to determine along with you what changes, if any, may be necessary to improve quality of life. The fact is that therapy may be a slow process or, in some cases, move along relatively rapidly to provide desired changes. The fact is that, in some cases, a therapist will coordinate with a psychiatrist or other medical providers regarding medication management and other medical concerns that may impact mental health concerns based on treatment plans you and your therapist determine together.