Recently, I was assessing a patient that came into the ER under a Baker Act (involuntary psychiatric hold) for making a suicidal threat that appeared to be more out of anger than actual intent to act. However, the patient reported having attempted suicide in the past along with experiencing some very difficult life circumstances. When I asked if he was open to going to counseling once he was discharged, he told me he was hesitant, that he didn’t want to be seen or labeled as”crazy”.
It is sad to me how stigma and fear of judgment can stop people from getting the help they need, help that could potentially save their life. Even when people do have the courage to seek this help, stigma often causes or at least contributes to them feeling embarrassed that they need this help in the first place.
I shared with the patient what I think many people need to hear-counseling isn’t just for “crazy” people. Many of the people who go to counseling are relatively normal people who have some difficult things they need to process with someone and learn to cope with it. It is not uncommon for someone to have gone through a life event like going to college, getting a divorce, or losing a loved one and finding themselves excessively worrying about the future, causing them to seek treatment.
Counselors and psychiatrist serve a broad range of clients, disorders, and severity. As a mental health therapist, I have seen this first hand. When I worked as an in-home therapist, the clientele ranged from kids whose biological parents were very unstable and needed a little extra help coping with the aftermath-which is referred to in diagnostic lingo as an adjustment disorder-to adults who are psychotic (seeing & hearing things not actually their, having bizarre beliefs, etc.) and have suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts-symptoms which are consistent with disorders like bipolar and schizoaffective disorder.
Even as a therapist, I am not immune to the stigma associated with mental health. I still sometimes feel “crazy” for having my own counselor and psychiatrist. Everytime I go to see a psychiatrist, in the back of my mind I think “I’m going to the ‘crazy’ Dr. today”.
However, I know that the professional help I have received personally-along with the grace of God- has played a large role in where I am at today. I am a high functioning person pursuing my dream of helping others as a therapist and although I still struggle some with anxiety and depression, they are manageable and I am able to live a full life.
To me, the benefits of seeking professional health far outweigh the potential stigma one may face. Stigma causes us to shrink back and want to hide. One day, maybe, through people like me speaking out, stigma may no longer be an issue.But until then, I encourage you to be courageous, rise above stigma, and seek the help you need like your life depends on it-because it might.