Have you ever thought that maybe you’re going through something that you can’t handle on your own, but something held you back from asking for help?
That’s a feeling quite a large number of people who struggle with anxiety (and I’m sure other mental health issues as well) can relate to. Maybe you don’t think it’s “bad enough” to bother with therapy, or you’re concerned that therapy won’t do you any good. Or maybe you’re worried about what other people will think of you if you seek help. Perhaps it’s a financial concern, or pressure from someone in your life, or something else entirely that’s telling you not to ask for help.
The stigma against talking about mental health issues is lessening, but it hasn’t gone away completely. Admitting we need help with something that’s going on inside our own heads is rarely easy. But there’s nothing wrong or weak in seeking help. Rather, it’s a choice of strength and self-care to seek out the help you need when you’re struggling with anxiety.
Waiting 10 years for treatment
While some of the things I’m going to say in this post might apply to other mental health issues, I’m going to focus on anxiety (and to a lesser extent depression) because that’s what I have direct experience with.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “fewer than 5% of people of with social anxiety disorder seek treatment in the year following initial onset and more than a third of people report symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.” And even though anxiety disorders in general are considered highly treatable, “only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.”
This statistic held true for me. I had my first panic attack when I was high school aged, probably around 15 or 16 years old. I didn’t seek help for anxiety until I was 28 years old. That’s when I hit a point where I couldn’t function and several important people in my life told me, “you need help.” One even offered to pay for counseling if I would just go (though it turns out my insurance covered the therapy).
Why not get help?
The reasons why someone might not seek treatment are as varied as the individuals affected by anxiety and depression. I don’t know what your reasons might be, but I can share mine.
- I didn’t want to admit I needed help.
- There was a stigma in my church and family against counseling with someone other than a minister.
- I didn’t think my anxiety or depression was “bad enough” to really count as a mental health issue because I knew other people had it worse.
- For a time, I thought I was getting better on my own.
The first was about fear and pride. Pride because I didn’t want others to know I couldn’t handle this on my own, and fear because I was scared to face the idea that I might really have a mental illness.
I think the second is also about fear and pride. There’s often a sense that once you become a Christian, you should be able to conquer anything with the holy spirit’s help. So there’s a shame aspect to admitting you could use some help from someone other than God or your minister. Plus, there’s also the fear of getting a bad counselor who might try to lead you away from your faith (which is what my parents had seen happen to a few people).
My third reason is a sneaky one. It’s the temptation to down-play your own pain by comparing it to others. It’s the little voice that says “you should be able to handle this — other people handle worse.” There’s shame, there’s guilt, and then there’s more pain as you try to try harder and can’t seem to make any headway on your own. Combating this one involves recognizing that your pain is valid and that if something bothers you, then it’s “bad enough” to merit asking for help.
The fourth reason happened as I became more comfortable in my own skin and owned my sensitivities. I learned to practice self-care and manage my anxieties to a certain extent. I felt pretty good most of the time and thought the occasional panic-attack wasn’t too much to deal with. But when I started dating someone a couple years ago, I realized I hadn’t really fixed anything — I’d just built a life that avoided anxiety triggers. There’s nothing wrong with self-care (it’s a very good thing!) or avoiding things that trigger your anxiety. But when you’re using that to hide from healing it can become a problem.
It’s not too late to start now
The good news is that if you do get help, there are treatments that are really effective in managing anxiety and depression. I’ll admit, though, this fact has also frustrated me at times. Instead of spending those 15 or so years after my first panic attack worrying about having another one and trying to hide the fact that I was struggling, I could have been utilizing techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy to understand and manage my anxiety (as I am now).
One thing I have to remind myself of is to not beat myself up over not getting help sooner. I can’t change the past. None of us can. We can, however, decide not to waste anymore time going forward. If you’re struggling with something, I encourage you to seek out a mental health professional and talk with them. Here are two links that can help you find a therapist:
- “Find a Therapist” database from Psychology Today
- “Find A Therapist Directory” from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America
It’s okay to ask for help dealing with your anxiety, depression, or any other mental health struggle you’re facing. None of us should be expected to handle everything on our own. Sometimes we just need a little help from someone who can guide us toward better ways to live with the things that are troubling us and help us move toward healing.
Featured image credit: Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush via Pexels