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R U not OK being not OK? Because that’s OK!

Why it’s important to be compassionate towards our hesitations and resistance to mental health treatment.

By Will Sutherland

So, you’re thinking about going to therapy. Congratulations! And for some people that will be that. Their next phone call will be to a psychology clinic or to their cousin’s best friend, whose sister saw that person one time for that thing.

But for others, going from thinking about seeing a mental health professional to taking the next step can feel impossible. It can seem like an acceptable thing for others but not for you. It can feel so contrary to your personality that it seems ridiculous. And in the current period of increased awareness and publicly stated acceptance of mental health treatment, that can be a problem. It can all too easily feel like all Australians, except you, are totally at ease with therapy. However, stigma and barriers towards mental health treatment are complex and different for all of us. A myriad of factors are at play; from culture to country and gender to generation1. It is possible that it will always be that way. I wonder if attempting complete elimination of mental health stigma is feasible or even helpful. Perhaps initiatives like RUOK day will only ever ease these challenges. I think the final word on Mental Health treatment should be; do what you have to do to get yourself in the door.

It may take more effort, patience and self-compassion than you would like to give. It may take longer for someone you love to get into therapy than it did for you. That’s okay. Some people need many, many reasons to get in the door and others need time. Some may wait for a huge life event to occur, some may feel a slow, subtle build over many years. You might need to open more than one door before you find the right room for you. Of course, some will need to read the article Ten Reasons Why Ricky Martin Went to Therapy, before they reflect on their own La Vida Loca (Crazy Life). Personally, for me, it took a 70+ year old New York acting teacher screaming ‘If you’re in this class you need to be in therapy’. A cliché I know, but one I’m grateful for.

If you do need any of these things and more, you are not alone. A 2020 Study showed that 3 in 5 Australians had been affected by mental health stigma2. Subsequently they either avoided initiating mental health treatment or did not reveal the true severity of their distress. In Australia we have seen how difficult it is to predict national mental health needs. Beyond Blue was proposed as a five-year program to help those with depression. In 2022 it has well and truly exceeded its expiry date by 17 years. In 2020 they received 273,845 phone calls, 69% higher than 20153. The extension of this widely accessed service is fantastic. However, even though more people are accessing mental health services, 60% of Australians still find it difficult to candidly begin treatment3. Clearly there is an ongoing need for sensitive public messaging that addresses real challenges.

Any resistance or hesitation towards initiating treatment is ok. Do what you have to do to get yourself in the door. Good luck.

By Will Sutherland

  1. Sean Stickney, Daniel Yanosky, David R. Black & Natalie L. Stickney (2012) Socio-demographic variables and perceptual moderators related to mental health stigma, Journal of Mental Health, 21:3, 244-256, DOI: 10.3109/09638237.2012.670878
  2. Groot, C, Rehm, I, Andrews, C, Hobern, B, Morgan, R, Green, H, Sweeney, L, and Blanchard, M (2020). Report on Findings from the Our Turn to Speak Survey: Understanding the impact of stigma and discrimination on people living with complex mental health issues. Anne Deveson Research Centre, SANE Australia. Melbourne.
  3. Beyond Blue, 2020. Annual Highlights 19/20. Annual Reports. [online] Available at: <https://www.beyondblue.org.au/docs/default-source/about-beyond-blue/annual-reports/beyond-blue-annual-highlights-2019-20-web-with-fins.pdf?sfvrsn=b62e4ceb_4

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