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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Breaking the Stigma Behind Therapy

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Primrose Waranimman ’23

Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

Primrose Waranimman is double-majoring in psychology and music and is a 2021-22 health care ethics intern at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

Have you ever:

  • Felt so tired that you couldn’t get out of bed in the morning? 
  • Felt so unmotivated that you just couldn’t bring yourself to finish your work?
  • Felt so alone and isolated that you couldn’t talk to anyone?
  • Felt like it was impossible to fall asleep and stay asleep at night? 
  • Felt like it was impossible to breathe in front of a crowd of people staring at you? 
  • Felt like you wanted needed to talk to somebody, but had no one to turn to? 

If you have, it is likely that you have either contemplated looking into therapy, but cringed at the very thought that you might want help, then convinced yourself that you didn’t actually need the help. Now think of an individual who you would imagine struggling with the above circumstances. More likely than not, you are probably picturing an adult working 8-10 hour days while carrying the stress of managing both their personal and professional lives. They are exhausted, miserable, and have been asking around at work for recommendations for a decent therapist from understanding coworkers. 

Now, imagine this: an eighteen year old is sitting at their desk on a Friday night amidst a pile of homework and textbooks with their head in their hands. They had just come home from a three hour shift at their part time job after school, and now their single mother is yelling at them to take out the trash and make themselves useful because, “no one ever does any work around here,” and their siblings are banging on the locked door, saying that it was their turn to use the computer. Their social media feed is littered with posts from their peers going out to parties and outings, which they haven’t been able to make time for all year. They have insomnia on top of having trouble getting out of bed, and are sleep deprived beyond belief. In the past few weeks, their closest friend has been noticing that they have looked abnormally tired and upset as of late, and has mentioned to them that they looked depressed. They shrug it off, and later are met with the same comment by another group of friends at lunch. They offhandedly mention that they seriously think they need therapy, but are laughed off with a “good one” and “who even goes to therapy?” 

You may be thinking that this situation is wildly unrealistic, but with 15.31 million children living with a single mother, and 54.4% of young adults working, 17.6% working while enrolled in school, you might realize that this scene isn’t as fictional as it seems. At this point, you might be asking yourself, “What’s wrong with asking for help then?” Along with other factors such as socioeconomic status, related stigma, and lack of accessibility to resources, getting help may be more difficult than one would expect, especially in the brutally judgmental and highly critical world of adolescents and young adults. 

In 2022, 10.6% of youth (2.5 million) in the United States are coping with severe major depression, and at least 15.08% were reported to have suffered from at least one major depressive episode. This is a 1.24% increase from the year before, and a 38.89% increase from 2017. 

It may seem as though the troubles that plague the youths in our society are nothing more than middle school or high school drama, but in reality, youths are highly prone to developing mental health issues due to the unstable nature of their still developing physiology, as well as environmental factors that are out of their hands. These may include their family dynamics, socioeconomic status, platonic and romantic relationships with peers, daily responsibilities, workload, medical conditions, violence, stress, and much more. 

Among this young group of people, one of the most common questions asked is, “Am I crazy if I go to therapy?” There is a common misconception that the younger you are, the less likely you should be to need therapy or even consider seeking it. Younger individuals who openly go to therapy get help for more obvious genetic disorders such as the Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, or intellectual disorders such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, or ADHD. However, a large percentage of the group of youth that are in dire need of therapy but do not seek it out of fear of judgment do not fall into these categories. 

They instead fall prey to two major disorders: major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. Most youth who do receive therapy are sent there by their parents, teachers, or a figure of authority, and most of them unwillingly undergo the therapy process. Despite parents and figures of authority holding legal rights to send these kids to a therapist, subjecting an unwilling adolescent to undergoing therapy is undermining their autonomy and would arguably do more harm than good, as the adolescent may shut down even further. 

For youth that actively seek therapy, it is difficult for some to even find and have proper access to therapy due to socioeconomic complications, lack of resources, or not being able to find a therapist that suits their needs. Statistics show that ethnicity also plays a role in the access or lack thereof to therapy. In 2019, 17.7% of non-hispanic white children were more likely than hispanic children to have received any mental health treatment. If one were to receive therapy, chances are that they would be paying out of pocket, as some insurance companies do not cover therapy services. For companies that do cover therapy, the costs is so high that they will only cover part of therapy and the rest will have to come from out of pocket. These factors alone already make it incredibly difficult to gain reliable access to therapy, especially for those with lower socioeconomic standing. 

A 2022 graduate from the Bay Area touches on their journey with mental health and therapy. As someone who had been struggling with their mental health from early middle to late high school, they are a strong advocate for others who are seeking therapy. While encouraging a friend who could benefit greatly from therapy, they speak of their experience: “I definitely waited to the point where I felt like I couldn’t function anymore” and that “it took that to convince me.” 

They acknowledge the unspoken judgment that came from others towards individuals who seek therapy, and advise that getting therapy is something that each individual must do on their own time when they are ready. Trying to force getting help like they had been through in earlier years by their school only made them feel worse as they did not feel ready to share, nor did they even fully understand how they felt. Despite having a negative view of receiving therapy before, they are immensely grateful for the support from their family and close friends. 

Health care professionals and the members of our community have an obligation to preserve the beneficence towards our future generations by doing a better job of breaking down the stigma that seeking therapy and getting help categorizes one as crazy and abnormal. Recently, efforts have been made by the health care community in an attempt to normalize therapy by phrasing the idea of getting therapy as, “if you break your leg, you go to an orthopedic doctor….If you are depressed, anxious, or need someone to talk to, you go to a therapist.” Despite the fact that it may truly seem that simple, youth hearing these words from non-youth individuals would only drive them further away from seeking therapy. The community must realize that it will take much more than just hearing a few words from a health care professional to sway the decision of an anxious youth who feels like they are constantly unseen and unheard. 

However, what can be done by the health care community is a genuine attempt to make therapy more accessible by creating more means for all social groups to gain access to therapy, both through the improvement of transportation or adding more locations for therapy, and pushing for more government funded therapy to cut down on costs. There also should be an attempt to educate the youth community about the reality of society’s current situation. Implementing a program at local public and private schools to inform youth on how to get help could be a big push towards providing more avenues for promoting positive mental health in the youth community. 

Although our current generation of youth is already a little better educated on the negative effects that our society has played in degrading the mental health of our youth, a bigger push for advocating for mental health support through therapy should be encouraged from inside the youth community itself to help normalize and support other youths in need of mental health services. 

Jun 28, 2022

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