The Stigma Behind Seeking Professional Help with Mental Illness
Seeking help for mental health can be hard. Yak’s former staff writer, Jamye Zimmermann, explores some of the reasons behind this and opens up about her own journey.
It will come as no surprise that in Australia many people do not seek professional help with mental illness for a variety of reasons. There is a huge stigma in this country which surrounds mental illness and a large belief that seeking professional help is not an option because many individuals are not aware of, or understand what falls under the term mental illness, or they may not think the support is for them.
According to Professor David Susman, Clinical Psychologist, mental health advocate and writer, there are eight main reasons why people don’t seek out professional help. These are:
Fear and shame
People recognise the negative stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and do not want to be labelled as “mentally ill” or “crazy”.
Lack of insight
Not having the education or understanding of what it means to have a mental illness or having a strong belief that nothing is wrong with them, so they do not seek the appropriate support or even try to seek support at all.
A person may acknowledge some mental health concerns but can lack full awareness of their significance or really do not understand they have an actual illness. They may dismiss or minimize their issues.
Feelings of inadequacy
Many individuals struggle with admitting and accepting that they have mental health issues.
A major issue is finding a GP and/or mental health professional that you feel comfortable with and trust to disclose your problems to or the fear that your issues will not be kept confidential.
This can be a huge roadblock to receiving professional help if the individual believes that their situation has no hope or if they have a “what’s the use?” attitude towards their situation.
Due to lack of education or information available it may be an issue of knowing where to turn to to receive professional help.
If in doubt, always talk to your General Practitioner (GP) (if you are comfortable with them) about making a Mental Health Plan and they will be able to point you to the right help for your needs.
A big reason why people do not seek professional support is due to it being a very costly endeavour, with some of the cost being covered by Medicare but not all. With a Mental Health Care Plan made by your GP you are entitled to 20 psychologist sessions in a year which will include a Medicare rebate. Other barriers include not having transportation, appointments conflicting with work or school, etc.
I discussed with University of Newcastle Alumni, and Provisional Psychologist Claudia (No last name due to confidentiality), who studied a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours), for her opinion on what stops people from taking the necessary steps to getting professional help.
“In my experience with young adults and children it can be that the individual’s parent(s) do not have enough knowledge themselves about how to gain professional support.
“In this field you will see a cycle form because some parents don’t have the capacity of understanding, and they’re usually the individuals that need support the most but don’t get it,” said Claudia.
“Parents and young adults that are informed about mental illness are the people that openly seek support. Movements such as RU OK and Mullets For Mental Health have helped to bring awareness of Mental Health to young people, especially young men.”
In my conversation with Claudia, I also asked her opinion on why there is such a stigma in Australia around seeking professional help.
“My thesis was on the suicidal ideation in men, and it became clear in my research that men in Australia find it exceedingly difficult to seek help, and I’d attribute this to the ‘harden up culture’.
“Another main reason for this stigma is trends within families, in that mental illness is not seen as a legitimate issue and this is then projected on the younger generation,” said Claudia.
As a person who has struggled with their mental health throughout their life, I have found it very difficult opening up to medical professionals (and people in general) about my problems. Despite having moved to Newcastle in 2018 it wasn’t until late 2020 that I found a GP who made me feel comfortable.
I made a Mental Health Care Plan with my GP and took steps which have drastically changed my mental status, and how I deal with my depression and anxiety in a positive way. The more people realise it is okay to prioritise your mental health and get the help you feel you need, the better it will be in the long term for you as an individual.
It may take some time to find professionals who make you feel comfortable and who will prioritise your needs (don’t be afraid to look around for a professional that is right for you), but when you do it will be well worth the wait.
Article by Jayme Zimmermann, Former Yak Staff Writer.