Barriers to seeking support and how to jump over them
Having doubts about seeking support for your mental health is incredibly common. Despite the uncertain times we are living through (and the increase in emotional difficulties they bring with them) many of us still experience roadblocks to receiving help, even if we know we need it. I wanted to talk about some of the reasons we hold back and how we might start to overcome them…
Not feeling “bad enough”
It’s a sad but frequent sentiment that we hear a lot at eFriend – “I don’t think things are bad enough to bother doing something about it”. Personally, I’ve wrestled with these ideas my whole life, waiting over a decade to address my emotional concerns. I thought my struggles were my own fault, and I simply wasn’t trying hard enough to “snap out of it”. Now I can see that my reluctance to acknowledge how bad my emotions were getting was a key indicator of the problem itself: my shockingly low self-esteem.
Even if it were possible to quantify whose problems were “better” or “worse” (hint: it’s not!) – that still wouldn’t be a reason to avoid seeking help. As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure”. I’d strongly encourage anyone to reach out before things get so bad that you have no other option, because the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll start to see change. Any person working with other people’s mental health should congratulate you for coming to get the support you need, no matter how small the problem may seem.
Not knowing what to say
At times when I was really struggling with my mental health, I found it difficult to even imagine what I might say to someone if they’d asked how I was feeling. My thoughts and emotions felt like a tangle in my guts, and I couldn’t find a point to even start unravelling. When I finally booked an appointment to see a psychologist years later, I was terrified of sounding silly, or worse, not finding the words to say anything at all.
Luckily, I soon realised that it didn’t matter where things started, because there wasn’t one “correct” way of doing things. An important aspect of seeking support is simply having the opportunity to externalize the thoughts that usually stay spinning around in your head, and in doing so see them more clearly. It’s often going to be a messy process to get these thoughts into the open, but that’s a normal part of starting to figure things out, and any supportive professional should be understanding.
Feeling like you have to do it all alone
When you are in the grip of depression, anxiety, or other difficult experiences, it can feel like an extremely heavy weight to carry. In today’s society we are encouraged to be individualistic, we must strive to succeed, and if we fail, it is our own fault. Is it any wonder that we feel like “burdening” others with our heavy emotions would be unfair?
In reality, keeping our difficult feelings to ourselves usually makes the problems worse. Especially when seeking formal support from services or professionals, these people have made it their career to support others with these problems every day and are being paid to take on some of your load. When we finally let things out and see another person receive what we have to say without judgement, the relief can be palpable. While there is certainly a range of how much human contact each person needs to feel fulfilled, none of us are made to live in isolation – feeling understood and cared about by others is a fundamental human need.
Having social anxiety
In another classic case of “mental illness prevents seeking support for mental illness”, social anxiety can create a painful catch-22. When you are afraid to make a phone call or have an extended conversation with a person you don’t know, how does one reach out for support in the first place? This was part of my reality for many years, with the big leap of making an appointment remaining too far for me to jump.
Luckily, mental health services have started catching up with the times (and everyone like me who wants to book online!) offering options like web chat, phone calls and video sessions. While this won’t prevent the inevitable scariness of needing to talk about emotions with a stranger, it can make the steps to get there a lot easier to manage. And just remember: no support person should ever judge you for social anxiety, it’s part of their job to make you as comfortable as possible.
Having bad experiences in the past
Perhaps you’ve experienced a psychologist who was dismissive, or even downright abusive. Perhaps you’ve been hospitalized against your will. Perhaps you’ve experienced discrimination due to your race, gender, sexuality, or even your diagnosis. Perhaps the support you reached out to in the past just wasn’t very helpful. No matter what your previous experience was, it’s understandable that you wouldn’t be in a hurry to go back.
I’d like to commend those of you who are feeling brave enough to try again despite previous disappointment or even pain, but also acknowledge the strength who recognise their own boundaries and see that going back would be more detrimental than helpful. If you do feel comfortable trying again, consider researching different types of therapy, or other healing modalities that might help. If you didn’t like the clinical vibe of a CBT-based psychologist, perhaps a social worker might be more your speed, or a support group.
At the end of the day support people are also just people, and sometimes our personalities just don’t fit well together. It can be frustrating to keep looking, but finding someone who truly suits your needs can make a big difference.
In this piece I’ve focused on barriers that spring up in our own minds around seeking support, but I did want to quickly mention the very real barriers presented by not having the money or time to find help. Working with a professional is often very costly (even with Medicare rebates) and finding other programs that might be low-cost or free can take a lot of time, research and understanding of the system. This isn’t intended to put you off, as there are options out there, but it seemed disingenuous not to acknowledge this as a big factor in preventing people from accessing the healing they need.
If you think you could benefit from some emotional support – why not give eFriend a try? We are a 100% free peer support service, available to anyone in Australia over the age of 18. Our sessions are done virtually, via phone call, video call or text-based online chat. Speaking to a peer is a great way to get used to the idea of seeking support, as our peers have all had their own lived experience and know how nerve-wracking it can be to take those first steps. We can also provide suggestions about where to look for other supports if you are interested, and help you stay motivated if you need!