So often when I look around I see so many signs that point to the fact that we are a broken society. Life in general is hard these days and living our purpose and acknowledging our true self can be near impossible in this crazy, modern world in which we live. And I recently sat through a presentation that thoroughly reinforced these thoughts and feelings. The presentation included some alarming statistics about suicide, the number of people with mental health issues who are not seeking treatment, and the overall impact of such things on our work and personal lives. Depression, drug & alcohol abuse, anxiety, etc. The effects are wide spread. I was struck by just how far reaching this mental health epidemic has become and by how broken we are overall as a people – not just because of the statistics themselves, but because part of what fuels the increase in those statistics is the societal messages we all receive about what it means, according to the society we live in today, to seek help.
We are all doing the best we can with what we have been given, learning from those around us who are doing the best they can as well…but still we find ourselves in this place. So many people in our society are dealing with challenging things in their lives while at the same time lacking a knowledge of the tools that could help them better navigate those difficult times. Instead, most people struggle to work things out on their own. Sadly, this is something I see all too often in my work – so many people struggling to deal with any of a number of issues both personally and professionally, but unwilling to seek help, be it counseling or coaching, because they have been taught to believe that in seeking help they are indicating they are unable to handle things on their own…that they are weak or somehow flawed.
One in four people struggles with some type of mental health issue. What’s even more upsetting than that statistic is the stigma society places on seeking treatment. The societal messages are that you should just ‘learn to deal with it in your own’, “suck it up”, “get over it”, and “everyone else can handle it so why can’t you”. Such shame and humiliation is cast upon those already struggling with so much.
The “shame of it all” is both in terms of the shame that the people struggling to decide if they should seek help or not feel as a result of those societal messages, but also that we as a society allow that stigma to perpetuate. Rather, we should acknowledge that life is hard for all of us, that we all could use a little help from time to time, and that seeking that help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
So what causes this societal stigma? Is it a lack of love and understanding of our fellow humans? Is it because we do not teach resiliency? Is it just the chaotic, fast paced life we live in? Is it the high expectations held for us, real or perceived? Is it because we have not been taught how to ask questions and to make our own choices? Is it because we have not been taught how to stand tall in the decisions we do make? Or is it because of a loss of creativity and curiosity? I am not sure we will ever truly know the exact cause(s), but one thing that is for certain is that the societal stigma attached to seeking help for even the mildest of stressors in our lives, such as every day stressors like finances, relationships, work, or caregiver stress, is slowly killing us. We need to find a better way.
The reality is that everything is connected – we can’t leave our problems at home or at work. The mind/body connection is real. Pretending otherwise only makes things worse. We need to begin recognizing how hard it is to admit the need and/or desire for help. We need to see it as a strength and not a weakness. If we are going to help each other through this life, we need to start by creating awareness of the problem and then developing a culture of caring. We may be broken, but we are still fixable. A good place to start is to become more mindful of our words and the messages we send with them.
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” – Yehuda Berg