I am a 21-year-old female and I have been seeing a therapist weekly for almost a year. Yes, a therapist. Initially I began Cognitive Behavioural therapy to help learn new techniques to deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia, however my hour sessions soon transcended into me delving into my past and my obvious lack of self-esteem and self-belief became apparent. My therapist now knew my secret; I was my own worst enemy.
There is such a stigma around mental health issues, especially in the UK and US, and this cannot be eradicated until we talk about it. Celebrities such as Catherine Zeta Jones and Stephen Fry have openly discussed their struggles with Bipolar and Fry is a supporter for Time To Change; a campaign aimed at ending mental health discrimination. For students, mental health issues seem to be a prevalent issue, with around 10% of students seeking counselling services for mental health issues. Mental health issues include, but are not limited to, depression, Bipolar, eating disorders and anxiety difficulties.
Here are the five things my therapist has taught me so far:
1. Be authentic
When I walked into my first therapy session I was guarded. My answers were limited to one or two words, I made it very clear I wouldn’t consider taking medication for depression, and I was adamant I would be in control during my sessions. This soon changed when my therapist said the best way he could help was for me to help myself and be myself wholly. He explained in a world where we’re constantly morphing into different versions of ourselves to please others, his therapy sessions were a safe haven where I could be 100% authentic.
2. Be honest
I won’t lie, during my initial therapy sessions, I lied. I said I was okay. I tried to assure my therapist I didn’t need further support or family intervention and that I was strong enough to deal with university, financial struggles, and general life alone. One day he said to me “aren’t you tired yet?” I finally sighed and admitted I was and that I couldn’t do it all anymore without some support.
3. Be pro-active
As well as attending therapy sessions on a weekly basis, my therapist encouraged me to pursue other activities to assist with the progress we were making. He encouraged me to write down my feelings, thoughts and ideas; as well as rid any negative and toxic thinking from my daily routine. I also began to take daily walks, and I hope to start a regular exercise routine soon.
4. Be creative
As well as writing, my therapist encouraged me to read an interesting and wide variety of books, to learn a new skill, and to ‘get back to basics’ in order to live a simple yet fulfilling life.
5. It’s okay not to be okay
In a world where we’re expected to be the best versions of ourselves daily, to eat healthily, exercise regularly, work hard, and maintain personal and professional relationships; the expectations can be truly deterimental to our mental and physical health. So, take a break, close your eyes, and say aloud “it’s okay not to be okay” and then create an action plan.
I truly believe that talking about mental health issues will reduce the stigma that is still attached to it in the 21st century. If you don’t feel able to confide in your family or friends, these resources are very helpful and are available if you are struggling with mental health issues: Student Minds, Mind, and Mental Health America.
How do you think we can reduce the stigma around mental health issues?