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Breaking the Stigma: The Truth About Mental Health Diagnoses

Breaking the Stigma: The Truth About Mental Health Diagnoses

January 26, 2023

Whether you’ve just received a diagnosis or are curious about what it would mean if you got one, you likely have some questions about these mental health labels. Why are they so important? Do they mean your stress is permanent? How do they impact treatment?

 

We answer these questions and more below.

What Does a Mental Health Diagnosis Mean?

Mental health exists on a spectrum. We all experience stress and anxiety from time to time. For some people, it’s worse than others. According to Julie Isaacs, senior vice president of clinical operations and therapy here at Heading Health, stress, anxiety, and other states involved in mental health conditions are signs of a mental illness when they are disproportionate to the situation, persistent, cause a significant amount of distress, and interfere with your ability to function. For example, though everyone worries and experiences fear, this can turn into a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) if it’s experienced for at least six months, tends to be excessive, and limits your ability to function (e.g., at your job or in your social relationships).

Why Diagnosis is Important

Though they can seem intimidating, mental health diagnoses are crucial components of the therapeutic process. Here’s why.

Gaining Insight

Receiving a mental health diagnosis can help explain why you’ve been struggling and anticipate what issues you may face going forward. For example, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would explain why you have been experiencing nightmares, flashbacks, and panic attacks. Not only can this help you better navigate the condition in the future, but knowing PTSD has been the cause of your stress can alleviate any sense of guilt or shame you’ve been experiencing for having these symptoms in the first place.

Identifying the Proper Treatment

Different conditions respond better to different interventions. For example, while obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be addressed with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Prozac, bipolar disorder is better handled by mood stabilizers, such as Depakote or Lithium. 

 

By identifying your condition, your providers can make use of decades of research to offer you the most effective medications and therapeutic strategies.

Securing Insurance Coverage

Often, insurance companies will only cover a particular treatment if the patient has been diagnosed with a specific condition. For example, transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is typically only covered for a limited set of conditions, such as treatment-resistant depression (TRD) and OCD.

Diagnosis and Stigma

Despite its benefits, diagnosis can come with a significant degree of stigma. People hold various negative beliefs about what it means to have a mental illness which can make seeking therapy or receiving a diagnosis a stressful, guilt-inducing process. For many, this can discourage them from seeking treatment in the first place. For example, a recent report found that 25 percent of those who did not seek help for their mental health cited stigma as the main reason why.

Myth Busting Common Misconceptions

Despite its benefits, diagnosis can come with a significant degree of stigma. People hold various negative beliefs about what it means to have a mental illness which can make seeking therapy or receiving a diagnosis a stressful, guilt-inducing process. For many, this can discourage them from seeking treatment in the first place. For example, a recent report found that 25 percent of those who did not seek help for their mental health cited stigma as the main reason why.

Myth #1: You Can’t Recover From a Mental Illness

Mental health conditions are often seen as life-long ailments with no hope of recovery.

 

Fact: A significant percentage of individuals with mental health conditions see substantial improvements in their symptoms after treatment. Many even experience remission, meaning they no longer show any signs of their initial illness. 

 

Those who don’t respond to the first few treatments can find help from novel interventions. For example, studies have found a 69 percent response rate and 52 percent remission rate in patients treated with  Spravato® (intranasal esketamine), which is FDA-approved for treatment-resistant depression. Similar results have been found for ketamine, and TMS.

Myth #2: Treatment is Scary

Ever since Once Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest, mental health treatments have been poorly represented in movies and other forms of entertainment. 

 

Fact: Treatment is typically a pretty mundane process. In many cases, patients can improve with talk therapy alone. Medications and other biological interventions have been refined over the past several decades and now provide more targeted side-effect-free relief.

Myth #3: Mental Illness is Rare

Stigma is likely directly responsible for this myth. The percentage of individuals with undiagnosed mental health conditions is almost certainly underestimated, as many are apprehensive about seeking help in the first place. Moreover, those who do get help may not be ready to talk about it with friends and family. This creates a false perception that mental illness is rare. 

 

Fact: Mental illness is prevalent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50 percent of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.

Myth #4: Only People with a Mental Illness Should See a Therapist

Since therapists treat individuals with mental health conditions, it’s natural to assume that you shouldn’t be in therapy unless you have a mental illness.

 

Fact: “The techniques and coping strategies therapists offer can help anyone dealing with stress and anxiety,” Patricia Hernandez, LCSW.  “So whether your experiencing day-to-day stress, marital problems, or clinical depression, therapy can be a useful tool on your journey to mental wellness.”

Myth #5: Mental Health Problems Are a Sign of Weakness

Those who haven’t experienced a mental health condition themselves or don’t know anyone who has may not understand why someone might struggle to manage their stress and anxiety. As a result, mental illness is sometimes perceived to result from or be a sign of weakness.

 

Fact: There is no evidence to suggest that mental illness results from an internal weakness or lack of willpower. 

 

“Individuals with mental illness are no less mentally tough than the average person,” shares Andrea Marquez, LCSW,  an Austin, Texas-based therapist. In fact, the very opposite may be true. Managing a mental health condition requires strength, resilience, and a great deal of mental bravery.

Takeaway

Receiving a mental health diagnosis can be scary. With so many misconceptions regarding the nature of mental illness and its implications, it’s natural to feel concerned about the diagnosis you’ve received or the possibility of getting one were you to start therapy. 

 

The reality is that diagnoses help both patients and providers understand their condition and offer the most effective treatments. While stigma still exists, its effects are waning, and by learning about what a mental health diagnosis does and doesn’t mean, you’re helping to paint a more accurate, optimistic picture of mental health.

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Categories
anxiety Blog depression

I’m Anxious about Talking to My Therapist. Is that Normal?

I'm Anxious about Talking to My Therapist. Is That Normal?

December 12, 2022

Over the past several years, one in four young adults in the U.S. sought mental health care. If you’re like many of the millions of Americans starting therapy, plenty of emotions may be running through your mind. While you may be excited about taking this really bold step (and you should be!), you may also feel nervous about meeting your new therapist – especially if this is your first time starting therapy.

 

The good news is that there are ways to approach nerves, awkward feelings, or anxiety about starting therapy.  Here are some ways to increase your mental health awareness and work with anxiety when embarking on a relationship with a therapist.

 

Four Tips for Managing Therapy Anxiety

 

Ken Brown, LPC – Heading Health

#1: It’s Okay To Tell Your Therapist (and Yourself) That You’re Feeling Nervous

Trying to ignore your anxiety won’t help it go away. Acknowledging and accepting one’s anxiety is so important to overcoming it that it’s at the heart of one of today’s main therapies: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

 

“Be honest,” shares Ken Brown LPC, a Heading therapist in Texas. “It’s totally okay to tell yourself and tell your therapist that you’re nervous about talking.”

 

After all, therapy is a team effort, which can be a totally foreign experience, especially if talking about feelings and experiences is not something you often do in your day-to-day life. 

 

For many, therapy is the first time they have entered a space in which being completely open is not only tolerated but celebrated. Talking about the therapy environment’s impact on your thoughts and feelings is part of the process. 

 

#2: Set Aside Your Preconceptions

It’s easy to go into therapy with preconceived notions about what it will be like, what you should be getting out of the process, what it would mean to have a mental health condition, and so on. With all these expectations rolling around in your head as you prepare for therapy, it’s natural to feel anxious.

“My advice to anyone anxious when starting therapy is to approach it with an open mind,” Ken shares.

 

In other words, it’s important to set aside any general beliefs you hold about therapy and mental health. Your therapist will guide you with warmth and compassion throughout the entire process, and they’ll be able to do so more freely and effectively when you come in with an open mind.

 

#3: Remind Yourself that Your Therapist is There to Help​

In our day-to-day interactions with our friends, family, and coworkers, there’s often an unspoken pressure to put on a happy face. When someone asks how you’re doing, you say “good,” regardless of what the truth is.  It can feel weird to open up, especially to a therapist you’ve never met before, after holding back how you really feel for so long.

 

“It’s important to remember that it is okay not to be okay,” Ken shares, “Remember that therapy is a safe, non-judgmental place for a person to process their thoughts and feelings.”

 

There’s nothing wrong with feeling unwell. Therapists are there to listen and provide you with the tools needed to work through whatever problems are bringing you down. They have years of training and have decided to dedicate their lives to helping individuals work through their mental health struggles.

 

#4: Recognize Your Strength and Bravery

Though therapy is no longer as stigmatized as it used to be, it can be hard to let go of years of harmful messages about mental health maintenance. As a result, people may experience feelings of shame or embarrassment over their decision to see a therapist and talk about their thoughts and emotions to improve their mental health. Recent mental health statistics indicate that 47% of adults feel seeing a therapist is a sign of weakness.

 

While these reactions may be real, they aren’t grounded in reality. 

 

‘If you are seeking help for improving your mental health, you are not “weak,” “flawed,” or “defective,” shares  Ken. “Someone who seeks to improve their mental health is someone who is showing a high level of self-awareness and personal strength.”

 

Take the first step

Want to find out if Heading is right for you? 

Complete our consultation form and an intake specialist will get in touch.


Schedule your consultation