The biggest obstacle in facing mental illness

Of all the lessons I learned dealing with anxiety and depressed mood, the most significant step I made, the one that made the most difference, was seeking help.

We can get it into our heads that the problem is minor and unimportant., or we have to figure it out for ourselves. 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 terrible person.

Another reason is we may be unaware help is available, or we have heard of bad experiences from others.

I had moments of all of this, and looking back, I wish I had sought help sooner.

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 according to a 2001 WHO report. [1]. In the England and Wales, only 1 in 3 adults with a common mental health problem are currently getting treatment., Mind Uk [2]

Whilst there may be obstacles in the health care system, the biggest hurdle I feel is the mindset of the sufferer. 

There’s one question that is worth asking and that I haven’t heard being asked before. At what point do individuals with a mental illness realise and accept that they need help?

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy examined how long it took for individuals to seek help.[3]

How long did it take to arrange their first consultation? Most came to the clinic with anxiety and depressive problems, although some did attend for anger or sexual difficulties. The research shows on average, these patients had suffered for 10.5 years with their illness!

This study has its caveats. But, the participants’ most significant, most time-consuming transition was recognising they had a problem and that therapy might help. 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).

It underlies the importance of the availability and dissemination of health literature. However, it shows the importance of self-awareness in the process of healing. You have to know you’re in trouble to start seeking a solution.

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 ignorance. Unaware of the extent or depth of our suffering. We think it’s normal; no one can help us, or we must suffer alone.

Not everyone will respond to therapy, 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 takeaway lesson from this study is that we should spend more time in introspection, seeing and understanding our suffering. With this insight, taking action on the path of healing is much easier.

Image Credit: bialasiewicz / 123RF Stock Photo

  1. WHO | Mental disorders affect one in four people [Internet]. WHO. [cited 2016 Feb 23]. Available from:
  2. How common are mental health problems? | Mind, the mental health charity – help for mental health problems [Internet]. [cited 2016 Feb 23]. Available from:
  3. 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.

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