Someone recently expressed to me the idea that having counselling still has a stigma attached to it.
In our society, becoming conscious and gaining clarity about our subconscious thoughts and emotions and expressing them, is – astonishingly – still sometimes seen as taboo. Maybe this is because of society’s demand that we present a façade of competence and confidence in a competitive world. Or perhaps we have been taught that it is ’self-indulgent’ to devote time and attention to our mental health. What is generally considered far more acceptable is to ‘keep a stiff upper lip’ and suffer in silence alone; to sweep mental health issues under the rug and to numb ourselves with television, alcohol, overeating or meaningless distractions in order to avoid facing difficult emotions, situations or decisions. Whatever the reason, the insidious nature of this kind of prevalent attitude can present a real barrier to the individual who would otherwise simply take the necessary practical steps to move toward a better and richer quality of life.
According to the mental health charity Mind approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. In England, 1 in 6 people report experiencing a common mental health problem (such as anxiety and depression) in any given week. Perhaps surprisingly, 20.6 in 100 people have experienced suicidal thoughts at some point in their lifetime. ‘Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.’ And ‘there are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide’(World Health Organisation). Evidently, many would rather die than ask for help.
These are not insignificant numbers. Furthermore the fact is that everyone experiences doubt, fear, guilt, anxiety, upset, anger and confusion at times. And no one remains untouched and unaffected by life changes such as bereavement, a relationship breakdown, a separation, sickness, work-related stress, interpersonal conflicts, job-loss etc. These emotions and events are just a part of the human condition. It is positively unhealthy to suppress upsetting thoughts and emotions as an attempted alternative to dealing with them. They remain within the mind and despite being buried, play havoc beneath the surface of awareness, continuing to have a detrimental effect on our emotional and physical well-being.
All illness is mental illness. Physical illness has its source in the mind. No amount of self-medication or prescribed pharmaceuticals can really cure. They may alleviate the symptom, but the underlying cause in the mind will simply manifest another symptom elsewhere in the body. True healing consists of becoming conscious of these underlying thoughts and emotions. It is by becoming conscious of them and taking responsibility for them that they are ’brought to light’ and thereby lose their subterranean ‘power’ to harm.
There should be absolutely no shame in seeking assistance in getting clarity on your thoughts and emotions. What should be considered shameful is the attitude that seeking help is somehow a sign of weakness. Looking at our hidden thoughts – while tough at times – is positive, affirmative and courageous work that can be very difficult and slow-going when undertaken alone, as we tend to lack the necessary objectivity and distance from ourselves.
Asking for help can indeed seem to be one of the hardest things to do within our culture. But it is in this asking, and in the willingness to trust in and join with another in a collaborative relationship that has as its only purpose the finding of a true solution, that real change and healing does indeed occur, and the freedom of mind, happiness, effectiveness and joy that is every one’s right can be reclaimed and restored.