Bias & Stigma in Mental Health

Are you someone who wants to try counseling, but worries what your friends or family might think or say?  Or are you in therapy now and wish your loved ones would understand its benefits, and maybe try it for themselves?  Well, you’re not alone.  Unfortunately, there is and always has been a gap dividing those who understand and believe in therapy, and those who do not understand it, or don’t believe in treating it.

Nearly one-fifth of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year, but less than half of them get the help they need.  There are many reasons for this, including cost and access to care, but one of the driving forces that keep people from seeking counseling is bias against it.  As is usually the case with stigma and discrimination, the rejection of therapy stems from either a lack of knowledge, an unwillingness to understand it, or a mixture of both. The most valuable tool you can have when talking about the benefits of therapy is knowledge, so the next time someone is dismissive about it, arm yourself with some of the facts.

The Facts

You might tell them that in the United States, 1 in 20 adults experience serious mental illness each year and 1 in 6 teens experience a mental health disorder.  It is also noteworthy that for children between 10 and 14, suicide is the second leading cause of death.  Also, individuals with depression are at a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. If left untreated, due to stigma or any other reason, mental health symptoms will more than likely worsen over time. 

You Are The Expert

When someone is struggling emotionally, it is often difficult for others to understand what’s really going on.  Because we are the experts of our own bodies and brains, we are the ones who get to judge when something is “off.”   There are many reasons people go to counseling, with depression and anxiety being among the most common.  Not all forms of depression and anxiety are severe or long-standing, and people very often go to counseling for what one would call “situational” reasons.  Almost everyone can think of a time when they might have benefitted from more support, such as during a move, a divorce, a major illness, or after losing a job or someone close to them.  These are the times it really helps to have a counselor’s support

Another top reason people go to therapy is to figure out how to get along with and relate to others better. This type of counseling can be, and often is, for dating, engaged, or married couples.  But we also see clients who may have relationship issues with their co-workers or their in-laws.  There are also clients who come in to acquire the necessary tools to manage their anger or addictions in a non-judgmental, supportive environment. Additionally, trauma-informed care makes up a large part of most counseling practices, where people who have suffered can receive empathic support in a safe environment.

As you can see, there is ample evidence to support “why” people go to counseling and to disprove the misinformed or biased reasons why many dismiss it. The next time you find yourself defending therapy to people, do what you can to educate them. Encourage them to show equality and compassion to those who may be struggling emotionally.  Normalize counseling by being open and honest about what it’s like for you to have symptoms as you work through them with your therapist.  Most importantly, do not let others dictate how you view or feel about yourself by choosing empowerment over shame. Chances are, they will take notice and decide to give counseling a try themselves!



About Pamela McKenzie

Pam believes that everyone has the capacity to grow and develop into the best possible version of themselves, and she feels that it is her job to guide and support her clients as they work towards this goal together. She sees herself as a very experienced observer of human behavior, and feels that becoming a counselor was simply a natural continuation of her enthusiasm for the life complications that affect us all.

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