May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Today, we’re discussing therapy. As always, we want to destigmatize mental health and seeking help. For many of us, getting help is hard to admit. We’re reluctant to admit it in American culture. In the South Asian community, it’s even harder.
The truth of the matter is that everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist. Even if you only go for a few sessions (the average therapy course is just three to four months). Even if you don’t think your mental health is struggling. We have this idea that going to therapy means there’s something wrong. Admitting we’re getting help means admitting weakness. But that’s wrong.
We’re going to talk about why seeing a therapist or counselor is nothing to be ashamed of. We need to shed this idea that seeking help is a sign of weakness. The fact of the matter is that mental health does not discriminate. It doesn’t care that it’s not taken seriously in South Asia. It doesn’t care whether you feel your life is hard enough to justify it. It certainly doesn’t care whether or not we find it valid.
In the United States, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) constitute about 6% of the population. Of that number, 15% reported mental health struggles in the prior year. In percentages, that number may seem small, but it’s nearly 3 million people. It’s 3 million people who reported their struggles. How much larger would that number be if we didn’t stigmatize mental health and counseling so much?
Going to therapy doesn’t mean something’s wrong with you
This is a big one that needs to be addressed right away. You don’t need to have experienced trauma to go to therapy. You don’t need to be facing mental illness to go to therapy. Sometimes, people feel the need to add a caveat when telling others they’re seeing a therapist — “I’m not crazy.” Maybe they feel a little insecure, or maybe they feel they need to defend themselves from people who don’t understand. It’s all valid.
On that same vein, no one is forced into therapy. If someone is in counseling, they are there of their own volition. Your friend who’s seeing a therapist wasn’t forced there because they’re dangerous. They’re seeing a therapist for reasons that are their own. Maybe one of the reasons we’re discussing today. You may even be facing the same issues that they are facing.
You are not weak or broken if you are in therapy
There’s this idea that people go to therapy because they need to be fixed or that there’s something wrong with them. This idea is perpetuated by our culture that stigmatizes therapy. Maybe this helps us convince ourselves that we’re okay. However, the truth is that many people in therapy are dealing with things we all deal with. Change, stress, grief, feeling lost. Every reason for seeing a therapist is valid and you are not weak or broken for deciding to get help.
To reiterate: seeing a therapist does not mean you are broken because you don’t need fixing. If someone you know is seeing a therapist, they are not weak for choosing to do so. Really, choosing to seek help despite a culture that stigmatizes it is an act of courage and strength. Unfortunately, taking steps to take care of your mental health should not have to be seen as courageous acts. We, as a community, need to fix that.
Therapy doesn’t have to be “serious”
To expand on the previous points, it’s a common misconception that something needs to be “serious” in order to justify therapy. Going to therapy doesn’t mean there’s something wrong, nor does it mean you have serious issues. Anyone and everyone can benefit from counseling.
Therapy can simply be a means to know yourself better. It can help you understand your own relationships. You can learn better ways to adapt to or manage stress. It can simply help you improve aspects of your life — even when you feel like you’ve got it all figured out. No matter how big or small you feel your problems are, therapy can be a perfectly valid way to address them.
Long story short
Long story short, we have a lot of growing to do as a community. Mental health has been stigmatized for far too long. No one is benefitting from the common ways we approach mental health. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Mental health is health. If someone has a car accident and breaks their arm, no one would think to tell them to walk it off. No one would ask, “Why are you going to the doctor? It’s all in your arm. You should be grateful for your health!”
Yet, for some reason, many think it’s perfectly okay to ask similar things of people struggling with their mental health. In both American culture at large, and in South Asian culture, we act like mental health is less important. But the truth is that health is health.
Destigmatizing mental health is incredibly important. It’s part of why Mental Health Awareness Month exists. If you know someone who is struggling with their mental health, be supportive and never judge. Listen with empathy. It could make a bigger difference than you realize.