This post was originally published on June 8, 2015.
It’s funny—I have been going to therapy pretty consistently since I was 16 years old. At the time, I was in so much pain as an unsure and angst-riddled teenager that it never occurred to me what anyone might think about me having a therapist. I was more concerned about how my ass looked in the new jeans I stole from the Gap and if wearing them would made me appear cool enough to be deemed worthy of friendship or a date by anyone in my high school. But when HuffPo posted an article about taking the stigma out of therapy, it really hit me that there are people out there in pain, whose lives—and often the lives of their loved ones—are severely affected by depression, fear or some kind of chemical imbalance and they aren’t considering therapy as an option. But why?
According to the piece, this may be due to the negative connotation (supposedly) associated with going to see a shrink. I have no first hand knowledge of this. Growing up in a progressive suburb of Boston and then moving to Los Angeles, I have never known a world where having a therapist made you seem anything more than self-aware and privileged (and possibly slightly neurotic in someone like Woody Allen’s case). But in some parts of the world, the implication is that someone who goes to therapy doesn’t have his or her s**t together—that he or she is fragile, a mess and possibly even “crazy.” Sure, there may be people who fall into these categories and go to therapy, but there are just as many—if not more—perfectly stable folks who seek support so they don’t destroy their relationships, their families or themselves with their sadness, worries, fears and anxieties.
It’s All About Perspective
It’s worth noting that even those with certifiable mental illnesses are generally not of the straight jacket, rubber room variety. Some of the most talented and respected people in history have struggled with bipolar disorder and depression and unless you were a part of their inner circle, you may never have known it. Do you think less of Demi Lovato now that she’s speaking openly about being bipolar? Would you think anything less of Jim Carrey if you saw him leaving a therapist’s office? What about Marlon Brando, Dick Clark or Roseanne Barr (okay, forget the last one)? Are these not people whose lives and careers we have admired—some of us even striving to mimic?
While this is perfectly logical, there still seems to be a disconnect. According to the CDC, only a quarter of people with a diagnosed mental illness feel that people at large are sympathetic to it. This in itself is depressing but it’s also important to note that the people reporting these stats are, well, mentally ill. No offense, but as someone who has struggled with depression and alcoholism myself, I can assure you that if there is one thing you can’t trust about a mentally imbalanced person, it’s their perception of reality. It’s not that we are nuts necessarily, it’s just that we don’t often see the glass as half empty—we sometimes even just see it as “Is there even a f**king glass?”
United We Shrink
Some people are never going to accept certain things—like alcoholism as a disease, depression as mental illness or therapy as healthy—but campaigns like #TherapyHelped, the brain-child of actor Amir Talai, aim to do their part in helping to spread awareness and remove the stigma by outing themselves as therapy goers—past and present. It may seem insurmountable but if we can take the sexiness out of smoking and the joy out of eating bread, then I am confident that with enough focus and joined forces, we can help make having a shrink become as ridiculous to judge as having a vibrator. (Oh, wait—people judge that, too. Another campaign to start but that’s for another day.)