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*The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Working in mental health and being a recipient of mental health services myself, I know very well the reasons that people use to rationalize not taking care of themselves in this very important way. The reasons that people come up with are very understandable from a cultural point of view, but at the same time very stupid, self-defeating, and self-destructive from biological and functional points of view. The reasons in themselves can be very insight-provoking and help you see more clearly how utterly misguided we have been by dominant cultural forces.
Reason #1 – “I don’t have time for mental health”
Of all the reasons, this one is oh so classic and mostly used by males. Since we live in a culture that convinces us we have a load of mostly financial obligations and limited time to fulfill these obligations, we give most of our time to this type of activity. The typical result is that we reach a state of being burnt out, meaning that we have little energy left over to invest in things like mental health. But more than this, there is a sense of “being left behind” when our energies are not directly invested in our “upward mobility.” In my entire experience as a mental health therapist, I have never met with a male patient who completed an entire treatment plan, often due to occupational priorities convincing him to abandon this aspect of his health. I fit this profile perfectly while in the midst of working through university and unknowingly being very mentally unwell. Unfortunately – and I know this to be absolutely true – when the time isn’t taken to learn about mental health, it usually only means more problems later.
Reason #2 – “I shouldn’t need help with mental health because I’m an adult”
This reason clings to one of the most common myths perpetuated in modern culture, which is that “age equals (or should equal) maturity.” While it may be impossible to avoid maturing physically in a human body, it is entirely possible to avoid maturing emotionally/psychologically. I know this to be true as evidenced by the endless stream of individuals who do access counselling and utter various versions of the same phrase: “I don’t know how to deal with my emotions”. The many psychosocial histories I have collected from patients has furthermore informed me over and over that childhoods commonly include neglects and abuses that effectively stunt emotional development. If age automatically endowed humans with the skills to work through emotions constructively, then the reality I repeatedly observe in my work as a mental health therapist would be different, or better yet, my services wouldn’t even be needed.
Reason #3 – “Other people have issues with mental health, but not me”
This is always a “red flag” statement that suggests a person may be living in a pattern of externalizing issues, also known as blaming others for things he may need to learn how to deal with. One of the main reasons mental health even comes up as potentially relevant to your life is because things are happening (e.g., unusual behaviour and functional issues) that become a cause for concern. To immediately go on the defensive is no way to discover if anything mental health related may, in fact, be going on. On the other hand, it is understandable that a person may get defensive because there is often a relational dynamic happening that influences mental health struggles, meaning that everyone involved needs to learn some things to ease the suffering. Indeed, just because one person is standing out as “having problems” doesn’t mean that others are not making serious interactional errors stemming from serious mental health ignorance.
Reason #4 – “Other people are the cause of my mental health issues”
This reason is similar to reason #3 in regards to being a “red flag” statement. Again, with statements like this, it is clearly apparent that externalizing/blaming is happening and there is little interest in taking a look to see what, in fact, is going on. Whenever a person is faced with bothersome anxiety or depression symptoms or is engaged in behaviours that are self-defeating in nature, there is a very good chance that internal (mind-related) issues are not being understood or managed by the individual. One of the most common mental health facts that people overlook is that they themselves are largely the creators of their own reality – every person makes his own perceptions, makes his own thoughts thereby creating his own feelings, and quickly thereafter chooses a behaviour. Again, however, this doesn’t mean that others surrounding a suffering person do not have the power to influence the lived experience, because they do. Mental health is optimized when it is understood through the synonymous lenses of relationships, dynamics, interplay, and interaction.
Reason #5 – “Only weak people need help with their mental health”
This is one of the most foolishly degrading statements I have ever heard. It suggests that if people ever experience health issues of a certain variety (i.e., mental health), then they have lesser character and value as humans. It means they have been permanently labelled as “less than.” As a human who has personally experienced mental health issues and accumulated much knowledge on the subject, I know that receiving assistance with mental health has greatly strengthened me. But more importantly, I was never a “weak” person before realizing my issues, rather severely lacking in knowledge and self-understanding. The same holds true for anyone else having struggles with mental health, and whenever you want to discover your inherent human power you can choose to do so. Anyone can get better tools to live more effectively in their human body.
Reason #6 – “People will judge me as weak and/or crazy if I use mental health services”
There is no doubt that mental health services are devalued by many in the human population (but definitely not by all). There is also no doubt that many in the human population have been conditioned to believe that having or admitting to having mental health difficulties means that a person has fatal biological or character flaws – that they are “weak and/or crazy.” However, even though these misguided attitudes and beliefs exist, and even though they can translate into judgments from one human to another, it doesn’t mean that they have to be taken seriously. The truth of the matter is that humans will always judge other humans about many things, and so to be truly empowered is to learn how to work through all emotions relating to a perceived or experienced judgment, rather than ponder ways to “avoid judgment.” The other truth of the matter is that accessing mental health services suggests strength in the face of potential judgement, and so any devaluing of the individual with these ridiculous statements becomes invalid from the start.
Reason #7 – “No one really cares about mental health, so what’s the point?”
This is an extreme (all-or-nothing) statement, and so you can immediately guess there are problems with it. Of course, there are some of us humans who care about mental health. There are even some who care enough to invest portions of their time and energy into mental health practices. That being said, it is endlessly evident that caring about mental health doesn’t tend to happen until it becomes a problem in the life of a person, a couple, or a family. Even then, it can be hard to start caring since it requires time and energy that would otherwise be spent on leisure and money-making activities. I often make the comparison that people are taught from early childhood onwards to meticulously care for their dental health to prevent future problems, but sadly the same concept is yet to make it into the health and wellness mainstream for mental health. Even if it was by some miracle on our health and wellness radar, most people erroneously believe they we can “get away with” not caring about mental health and that the mind will somehow take care of itself. However, later in life, there are many who discover how faulty this type of thinking has proved to be.
Reason #8 – “I shouldn’t take the time of a therapist when they could be helping someone else”
This reason is one that commonly comes from a person who struggles with patterns of self-judgment and misplaced feelings of guilt and shame. In other words, this person finds ways to blame himself for problems that aren’t his to own, and then subsequently feels guilt and shame and looks for ways to get emotional relief (e.g., “I shouldn’t take the time of a therapist when they could be helping someone else). This person has probably been on the receiving end of much unnecessary and inappropriate blame from authority figures throughout life, and so is now stuck in a pattern of assuming blame. Perhaps you can intuit by now that a better approach would be to become acutely aware of judgement patterns as they arise, then work through activated guilt and shame feelings so that rational thoughts can emerge (e.g., “I am responsible for my own health just as others are responsible for theirs,” “I am just as worthy as any other human of receiving the support and guidance of a therapist”).
Reason #9 – “I don’t believe in mental health”
This rationalization for mental health neglect is the most epic of all, in my opinion. It’s existence sadly demonstrates the heights that human ignorance has “achieved.” To be of this belief is to presume that all observation, study, and practice of mental health over many years has yielded no discovery and offered no benefit. It is also to presume that it is not necessary (nor possible) to learn how to take effective responsibility for thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. Maintaining beliefs such as this is no doubt related to long-term exposure to misinformation from authority figures who believe the same thing. Over time the consequences of holding such a belief may arise (e.g., chronic anxiety, depression, and other disorder), but even then the belief may remain stubbornly fixed and symptoms/conditions worsen. To alter any human belief requires a deep willingness and profound courage.
Reason #10 – “I didn’t have a good experience in therapy before, so I shouldn’t try it again”
It is commonly necessary to consult with several therapists before a “good fit” between patient and therapist is found. Going into mental health therapy is going into a relationship with another human being, and just like any other time people run these “experiments” in regular life and with other professionals, they don’t always work out. When a therapeutic relationship doesn’t work out it can be disappointing and discouraging, although it doesn’t mean that all therapeutic relationships are destined to fail. It also possibly means that certain emotional sensitivities got activated that were not clearly identified, or perhaps the therapist wasn’t sufficiently equipped to offer timely and tailored support for those emotions. To continue avoiding therapy is to believe that your particular emotional sensitivities cannot be tolerated or managed, and so the opportunity to grow gets lost. Most therapists follow codes of ethics that require them to refer to other therapists whenever patients feel like things aren’t working out and change is needed.