One lesson I learned about addressing my social anxiety or even general illhealth is the importance of finding help.
We can get it into heads that the problem isn’t big or important. That we can figure it out for ourselves. Or until will go away soon. We may even feel that our suffering is normal. It’s our lot in life. We don’t deserve happiness or joy because we are a bad person.
Another reason is that we may be unaware that there is help available, or that we have heard of bad experiences from others. So we remain unconvinced that help will do us any good.
The statistics for mental health problems are shocking . But what’s most shocking is how few get help.
‘nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional.’
This can be due to flaws in the system. Such as long waiting times, limited availability (CBT, I’m looking at you). For men, it can be the social pressure. The stereotypical strong type who doesn’t ask for help, because it shows vulnerability.
But while these are obstacles the biggest one seem closer to home. It’s to do with the mindset of the sufferer. The belief, or lack that the health services can help you.
There is one question that is worth asking and that I haven’t heard being asked before.
A want point do individuals with a mental illness realise and accept that they do need help?
A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy took a closer look at how long did it take for individuals to seek help.
It studied 155 participants who contacted health services in a training clinic, seeking a psychotherapist. They answered a series of questions
How long had they suffered with their health problem?
How long did it take for them to decide psychotherapy could help?
How long did it take for them to make a decision to seek help?
How long did it take to arrange their first consultation?
They were followed up after their third visit and after their last. Most came to the clinic with anxiety and depressive problems, although some did attend for anger or sexual difficulties.
The findings were a cause for concern. On average these patients had suffered for 10.5 years with their illness!
The most difficult stage was deciding psychotherapy might be beneficial to them. That decision took on average 4 months. (Though 40% took over a year and 16% decided straight away).
Once they accepted therapy could help it took most of them about a month to seek help and a few weeks to make an appointment. (Though about one quarter never attended their first appointment).
This study has its caveats. But despite this something useful was learned.
The biggest, most time consuming transition the participants had was in recognising they had a problem, and that therapy might help.
This underlies the importance of availability and dissemination of health literature.
However, I would also add that it shows how important self-awareness is in the process of getting help.
As I said in the intro, we can have all kinds of excuses and even reasonable sounding arguments for not seeking help. Reasonable sounding to us that is.
But so often it seems we suffer because of our own ignorance. Unaware of the extent or depth of our suffering. We think that it’s normal, there’s no-one who can help us, or we suffer this alone.
Not everyone will respond to psychotherapy, but it demonstrates the importance of knowledge or awareness. It always appears to be the first step. Without this, we remain trapped. Suffering in silence, defeated by shame, and trapped because we can’t see a way out, or feel we don’t deserve it.
The take way lesson from this study is that we should spend more time in introspection, seeing and understanding our own suffering. With this insight it’s much easier to take action on the next steps to healing and health, which in this study was seeking help from a professional.
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Image Credit: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo
- How common are mental health problems? | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems [Internet]. [cited 2016 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/
- WHO | Mental disorders affect one in four people [Internet]. WHO. [cited 2016 Feb 23]. Available from: http://www.who.int/whr/2001/media_centre/press_release/en/
- Elliott KP, Westmacott R, Hunsley J, Rumstein-McKean O, Best M. The Process of Seeking Psychotherapy and Its Impact on Therapy Expectations and Experiences. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2015 Oct;22(5):399–408.