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Monday, June 11, 2018

Breaking The Stigma on Mental Health Counseling

I had planned on writing this post already a few weeks, ago, and then with the recent high profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the topic seemed even more timely than before.

I read this piece that said that Kate Spade's death reminds us that we really need to destigmatize mental health issues, and everything the author said was 100% true. For that reason, when I hear about celebrities talking about their own mental health issues, and that they go to therapy, my view of them goes way up. I happen to really love Kristen Bell and how she acts (though I haven't seen the more inappropriate movies she was in) and when I saw that she wrote this love ballad to her therapist, I began to like her as a person and not just an actress, because she's doing a great job destigmatizing mental health counseling.

Here's the hilarious and heartwarming song. Warning; there is a curse word in it (for those who are sensitive to foul language), but she really manages to explain how many people with great therapists feel about their therapists.



And her talking about this, and the other high profile suicides plus a lot of introspection have given me the confidence to do something I haven't had the guts to do beforehand.

I'm coming out of the closet. I can't really write about breaking the stigma about mental health counseling and mental health issues in general when I myself am perpetuating the stigma by refusing to acknowledge my own issues.

So here it is. I go to therapy. Mental health counseling. Whatever you want to call it.


I used to think that if someone goes to a therapist, they have to have something "wrong" with them. That they have "issues", and are "problematic" and "weird".

And then I grew up. And I learned more. And I realized that there is no shame in admitting that our lives are not perfect. No one is. We all don't enter adulthood unscathed; no matter what we went through in our childhood, and even our adulthood, there are things that leave a mark on your psyche and there's no shame in going to a therapist to learn how to make your emotional and mental health even better than it was, to learn how to retrain your brain "muscles", the same way that people go to physical therapists if they've been using the muscles in their body incorrectly for years, to relearn how to use that muscle so they feel better.

But despite the fact that I've been trying to hint at my own mental health issues on my blog for a while, I've been extremely scared. Because some people, the second they hear you have mental health issues, they expect you to just hush up about it, because there's something deep dark and "dirty" about your brain working less than optimally. So many people have come out of the closet about their mental health issues and then been shunned for doing so. And because there is such a hush hush about mental health, its considered a shameful secret, and people think that people should just "get over it" and apply "mind over matter" and "fake it till you make it" and all these other trite meaningless things that don't actually work if you have mental health issues... and then when people who are struggling try to do this "mind over matter" that everyone tells them they should do and they don't succeed, it just makes them feel even worse about themselves than they already did.
Or, sometimes what happens is they are so ashamed of how they feel that they shove those emotions deep down, and it comes out in other ways. For myself, I did such a good job shoving down those feelings I didn't like and didn't want to have, and it came out in the form of horrible debilitating panic attacks that got more and more frequent, in addition to some other issues.

The stigma on mental health issues is dangerous.

It leads to people feeling very alone, which only makes mental health issues all the more painful, because you feel you're the only one in the world who is feeling that way. And you're convinced that nothing will help. And things like that, that hopelessness, is what leads people to committing suicide. Because they feel things are hopeless, and that the world would be better off without them.

But I'm happy to share that more and more lately, there are some people opening up the discussion about mental health issues. Whether on Facebook, especially in various groups on Facebook, and there, people talk about how they've benefited from going to therapy and how it's helped their mental health issues. Blog posts like this one by my friend Daniella about her personal experience in therapy make people feel a little less hopeless. When I was first considering going to therapy, and then feeling conflicted about it during some of my initial therapy sessions, Daniella held my hand through it and convinced me and reassured me. And I only knew to even go to her because she's been so open about her own struggles with mental health.

I guess the final thing that gave me the push to open up about my own mental health issues and that I go to therapy is an email I got the other day from a long time reader on my blog. She was feeling hopeless and down and really depressed and alone and reached out to me, seeking a lifeline. When I responded to her that I also struggle with mental health issues, she was reassured and we started a nice correspondence which she said was very helpful to her and helped her move in positive directions for taking care of her mental health.

One thing though; she was shocked that I have mental health issues. Because from her perspective, my life seemed perfect- why would I be struggling? But let me tell you a secret: no one's life is perfect. And even if your life was perfect, mental health issues don't discriminate: poor, rich, successful, "failure", no matter your ethnicity or socioeconomic level or marital status, everyone can get mental health issues. And there is no shame in that. No shame in going to therapy. In fact, I firmly believe that every single person in the world would benefit from therapy.

So, I'm risking a lot. I'm taking a chance. Coming out of the closet fully and saying it loud and clear: I, Penny Price, have diagnosed mental health issues. (Anxiety, depression, PTSD, ADHD and some others.) And I go to therapy. And it has changed my life, and really made my life so much better. I still have a long way to go, but I'm already seeing a huge change from when I started nearly 2 years ago. I know some people will disrespect me for "airing my dirty laundry" and sharing something that they view shameful. But I refuse to be silent anymore. I refuse to cower and hide and pretend that everything is perfect when it isn't. It never is, and that's ok, because I have a good support system. And that is one of the things that is most important. A support system, either online or in person, or both.
And to take care of your mental health by doing a decent amount of self care.

And if someone decided to stop reading my blog, or to mock me or attempt to publicly shame me because they can't respect me anymore because I have anxiety, depression, and more? Well then, I guess their loss. I won't live my life afraid of what people will say. I won't contribute to the culture of shame we have about mental health issues.

And if you're worried that my revelation about my mental health issues will change the focus of this blog, don't worry, it won't. I still plan on writing about the same things that I anyhow write about, but this time, maybe if I write about something I spent money on that you might find unnecessary, now I can at least be open that that was worth the money because that was my type of self care.

I'm not sure what type of questions to leave at the bottom of this. I'm opening this up for discussion, feel free to ask me any questions that you want, I just may or may not answer depending on how comfortable I am answering that. And just a note, as with all my comments. I screen them and don't allow anything nasty and inflammatory through. So think before you comment if you're planning on leaving a nastygram.

32 comments:

  1. Aw, Penny, it sucks that there are still stigmas attached to mental health issues. Thanks for coming out. I feel that the best way (and maybe the only way) to increase acceptance of anything is for people who are loved and respected to come out. Eventually, this makes it easier for people to realize the truth.

    I'm pretty sure your readers will be overwhelmingly supportive, but I know even one negative comment hurts, so you have my condolences for any hurting that is now coming your way.

    And I wish you very good luck in your continued progress.

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    1. Thank you so much Debbie. One person who inspired me to "come out" is the Blogess, Jenny Lawson. http://thebloggess.com/ She talks publicly about her mental health issues and really inspires me and so many others. I'm not nearly as well known or liked as she is, but hopefully if I can spread the message a little bit, that even "normal" people like myself deal with mental health issues, then its not a shame for them to admit it also and go to get help.

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  2. Why on earth would anyone publicly shame you for saying you have anxiety problems? If someone loses respect for you because of it, they can simply stop reading your blog. Sorry, but I just can't understand this.

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    1. The same reason people attempt to publicly shame me because my kids are kids... (see my post about my new table and chair set). Basically people are stupid and mean and look to rip other people apart. My therapist says that people who do that usually are struggling with things internally and take it out on others. (and I love that I can say 'my therapist' in my posts now.)

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  3. You are awesome, and the more I know you on FB and your PP blog posts, the more you inspire me.
    You know that I am very open about myself..but I was not so open when I was in therapy for my BPD (borderline personality disorder) many many years ago. The therapist I had, made me feel inferior and so I would shut down in my sessions w her. Out of the therapy sessions I would write her daily notes which she read, but I could not open up to her verbally.
    Therapy is not easy : it is very hard work on one's Self.
    You are giving yourself the best gift ever: Your Self!

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    1. Thank you for sharing. I'm sorry you had a bad experience in therapy.

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  4. I have been enjoying your blog for years and today even more so. No one gets out of life unscathed, we all have things we need to work on and we all choose different ways of dealing. Good for you for taking care of yourself and through that your marriage and children. Because when Mom suffers we all suffer. I pray that you have the strength to overcome and get through those days when you just cant function/deal/want to hide/ run away, you are not alone in this struggle.

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    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind words!

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  5. I am in therapy, too, as are a lot of people I know. It's nothing to be ashamed of. I am glad you shared that with us and I hope it feels liberating, for you :). Have strength, sister, in this fight with depression demons!

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    1. Thank you! You have no idea how liberating its been. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

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  6. Therapy is SO IMPORTANT! I look at it like this: if we need to take care of our own oxygen masks before helping loved ones in the event of a depressurization event, why on earth wouldn’t we approach our own wellness the same way? In some ways depressurization and mental health challenges have similar symptoms - they make it hard to breathe.

    There are members of older generations who feel we’re misguided young people who just can’t handle life. But the truth is, we’re doing the hard work to make sure our children and other loved ones have a fightiychance at better mental health, should they need it. Thank you for being open about this. You’re awesome.

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    1. Exactly! Spot on! If I don't take care of myself, I can't be a good mom to my kids.

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  7. Well done Penny. It's not easy to admit you need help, or to tell others of your struggles.

    I think attitudes towards counselling etc are changing, thank goodness. Most of my friends have had issues at some point, as have I. One year 6 of us were in therapy or on antidepressants. It was great to be able to share our struggles with each other.

    Keep on sharing. 😊

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    1. I'm hoping. So far at least in most of my group of friends, going to therapy is not looked down upon the way it used to be. But in the wider world, there are still so many with stigmas.

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  8. I'm a big fan of therapy but I can't afford quality therapists. How do you fit this into your frugal budget?

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    1. I'll admit, its a big issue, its expensive, but it is worthwhile. I plan on writing a post about this. I'm not ignoring you.
      For the first year I went to therapy where therapists were in training, and it was very discounted, and it helped. But then I realized I needed something more intense, and then I trippled what I'm paying each month, but it has been life altering.

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  9. Good for you, Penny. This took a lot of courage, but if your words help anyone, then it's worth it.

    I'm a caregiver for a family member, who has had schizophrenia for 50 years. There have been awful times, and entire decades where the meds worked (although therapy would be useful, she rejected it for paranoia reasons.) In the past, regular medical doctors have not been kind, although she has a wonderful one now. From finances to getting care to simply getting through the day, the challenges don't stop. But she keeps getting up in the morning, and says it's worth it.

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    1. Wow, that can't be easy. Lots of hugs. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Thank you for putting this out there. There is still soooo much stigma and it makes it truly hard for people to get help.

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    1. You're welcome. Doing what I can to help break the stigma.

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  11. Congratulations on getting help. It took me almost 55 years to admit I couldn't do it myself. Glad you realized it earlier. Your life will be better for it.

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    1. Thank you! It wasn't the first time I tried. I attempted therapy at 18, but I wasn't ready, and quit. At 28 I was. Fortunately, it's been really helpful so far.

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  12. Penny, I am so glad you're being open and honest. I read here often, but I'm not sure how much I comment. My favorite posts of yours are the frugal shopping posts. I am happy to hear you're going to therapy.

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    1. Thank you! I'm always happy to get feedback from people about which posts are their favorites.

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  13. A Reader from BeitarJune 12, 2018 at 9:23 PM

    Wow. I'm amazed at how well you function, and have functioned, with all those millstones weighing you down. And before you start mentally rejecting what I say, and thinking about all the things that you could have/should have done "better," just stop. You're a wife and a mother to a bunch of kids with their own challenges. Everyone gets fed. Often frugally and healthfully. The laundry gets done. Yes, it still counts if you use the dryer. My house aint too clean, and maybe yours isn't either, but I get the feeling that it's basically functional. And you also do some type of work. So you've been functioning - if not perfectly - in a life that would be demanding for anyone - when you are dealing with your own burdens as well.
    Here's some unsolicited advice, so feel free to ignore it if it isn't relevant to you. I've also struggled with depression and anxiety at various times (can't say I have PTSD or ADHD, although I have to ADD/ADHD kids). At one point I took and anti-depressant and it really helped. More recently I have used homeopathy for anxiety (working with a homeopath), and despite almost not wanting it to work because the theoretical underpinning of homapathy seems nutty to me it actually resolved anxiety that would have otherwise required conventional medication. I myself don't know if it was a placebo effect, or the reassurance of the homeopath that it would help, or if it really worked - but problem solved.
    I also take B complex, omega 3 daily, and a multivitamin daily, and find that that helps my mood. And carbs can be a real downer for me. exercise helps.
    Clearly therapy is very helpful for you - so by all means keep it up. I'm just sharing my own experience in case any of it might also be helpful to you. And if not - just ignore it!

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    1. Thank you so much. I'm seeing a holistic doctor at the end of the month, hopefully he'll have some answers for me too.

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  14. I think it's great and courageous that you shared your mental health issues .I've been in therapy off and on for many years .I've had some really bad times and I believe that my therapist saved my life .

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  15. I am of the older generation but I say ditto to all the positive comments you've received! And bravo to you for being so open and kind to share. Perhaps your sharing will help others. I write fan fiction and did a story about suicide and included the following help line hoping that it may help others:

    If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

    ~darlindavdix~

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  16. Thanks Penny. It is so good to hear your story. I'm feeling teary because I can relate to your story. When I get out of balance I can lose perspective and in the past have sought counselling to help me get back on track. I swear by it. A lot of the time its just having someone to listen and to help me get some clarity. I work with people and come across people with similar struggles. When I suggest counselling that I am willing to organise for them they often knock back the help. I always explain that having anxiety depression or some other diagnosis is like having a broken leg except that people can't see it. The mind needs time and the right help to heal. Sometimes people are ashamed of what they are going through and at other times they just don't want to waste their money on counselling. Quite sad. But I have always thought that if ordinary people speak about mental health issues they have just like they see speak about their broken leg, arthritis, viral infections and what not, the stigma of mental illness would not be there. I hope your post will encourage your readers to be brave and speak up too.

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  17. I have been an on and off follower of your blog from last few years. Funnily i came across it when looking for a recpie for jalebi which is an indian sweet and i always thought you were an expat married to an indian ;)
    I have always admired your courage to share your personal life and lot of things which could be judgemental ,it really takes a lot of guts,be it from family cloth ,unschooling ,home birth to even frugal grocery shopping,but sharing about your struggles with mental health has earned more respect for you in my eyes.there is so much stigma to it that it takes lot of courage to talk about it.i shifted to a new country and was totally alone with a baby and husband who worked long hours.although language was not a barrier but i struggled to talk to people.i was so depressed, for me post partum depression was something that happened to other people.my husband said it was fancy of american people.we dont have depression.for me talking to my doctor about what i felt took so much time and courage.i did not need therapy but few life style changes.i would spend the whole day in bed doing nothing.it was awful.people would say i am so luck with a good husband who has nice job ,and a healthy beautiful baby but why am i unhappy ? I should be thankful to god and not thankless.
    Ican just say i love your blog,although there are a few things i dont do what you do but there are million more which i do and enjoy reading about.specially your grocery shopping deals .thank you for being a honest blogger

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  18. Maybe it's a cultural thing but everyone and their mother is in therapy in my neck of the woods and no one is embarrassed about it. Good for you for getting the help you need Penny. Hugs

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  19. These issues are common in my family, just like they seem to be in yours. I dodged the worst of it, but deal with the way it affects many members of my family on a daily basis. My husband is severe bi-polar and his mother is as well. She is very violent, but he is just more volatile.
    My son struggles with math dyslexia, ADHD, depression, and anxiety. However, he has finished college and is trying to choose the right path. It was a hard fight and he won this battle. He’s still fighting the war of mental health issues.
    God bless you, and yours. It’s is not an easy road. Thank you for sharing about your experience with therapy and your struggles. Therapy can truly be a game changer if you are committed to the process. I have had three experiences with therapy personally and two have helped me tremendously.
    My niece is a LPC, and has dedicated her entire adult life to helping people who struggle with these issues. She is also bi-polar I, her mother was abusive, but she works a full time job counseling and takes private patients after hours, because she is so committed to helping others.
    Good People care. Ignore the others. Keep being brave. Continue the self care. Your family will be better for it. Hugs

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