Mental Health Awareness Week- Breaking the counselling stigma
Mental Health Awareness Week is officially here but if you have been tuning into the TV or social media then you will know that this has been a topic of discussion which has been building up over the last few weeks. With thanks to the young(ish) Royals, William and Harry and the Heads Together Campaign they have shown that nobody is an exception when it comes to mental health problems and, that even years on, these issues can still rear their ugly heads. This for me has been very poignant because
, just like Harry, I have been battling with grief for a number of years and haven’t ever actually tackled it. If you are not familiar with my blog I lost my Mum to Cancer after a 15-year battle. I was 21 and my sister was 17. I am very open about this and I can talk very easily about what happened but missing her is something that goes far deeper. I previously wrote about my feelings back in October for World Mental Health Awareness Day as I was beginning to acknowledge low feelings, anger, depression and anguish creeping back in again. And that’s the thing with any mental illness, it can lay dormant for days, months or even years and suddenly begin to ebb it’s way back into your life, sometimes quite unexpectedly. The best thing I did was to be aware of it… this, by the way, has taken years of learning the ups and downs of my moods and reacting to them. The problem this time was that my ‘dealing with issues’ actually translated as me pushing them to one side and carrying on. I have been gradually getting lower, worn out, angry, emotional, teary and have lacked control over my feelings.
My breaking point came at a funny time but I think it was the straw that broke the camel’s back (as they say) – Jake got chicken pox. I was alone. People avoid you, no one visits, you can’t go out and you are just left to sit it out. It may sound melodramatic or like I was feeling very sorry for myself… well, in fact I was! But that’s just it with mental health, you may not understand it, you may think the person is being a tad self-obsessed and it may not be how you would cope in a situation but for me, this was my tipping point. And at the end of those thoughts is the one that just keeps popping back up time and time again… my Mum should be here to help, to turn to, to look after Jake, to meet him, to share in these experiences and to tell me of my own childhood.
My motive for sharing this with you is not for sympathy. If you know anything of mental health problems you will understand that tilted heads, softly spoken words and ahhh’s are not what we are looking for. What I do want to achieve is a good balance in my mind and my life, I want to raise awareness of how grief can affect your life, possibly even for the rest of your life and I want to be able to stand up and say it’s ok to speak up. We seem to be a proud country and talking about being unhappy or sad or angry or anxious or depressed is often perceived as a weakness. What these are, are simply emotions and they are what make us human. We need to stop being embarrassed about mental health issues and we need to break the stigma that seems to come along with it. So this is me speaking up and letting you know that during that lonely week I contacted a counsellor and I booked my very first appointment. I have been visiting her for the last 5 weeks and it has probably been one of the best actions I have ever taken. I was never offered counselling after losing my Mum… I was offered anti-depressants and that seems to be the way the system works – and that is definitely an entire blog post in itself and also a focus for future change. To leave 2 young girls to cope with one of the biggest traumas that can happen in life and not provide any aftercare support is a huge failing. I was the one who had to visit the doctor when I felt low, which is a huge step in itself, and I was simply told that there was a waiting list which was around 6 months long and even though I had taken an overdose this still didn’t change matters or bump me up the list. Instead, I was told if I couldn’t wait I would need to pay to go private. I didn’t have the money and I never saw it as a priority over the last 13 years so I have never previously received any form of help.
Counselling, for me, has brought clarity to a very muddled brain. I have looked at all aspects of my life, come to terms with issues that I hold on to, gained an expert perspective on why I am feeling the way I am and best of all I have been told that everything I am feeling is normal. This has lifted a huge weight from my shoulders because I have felt far from normal for a very long time. You never know what somebody else is thinking or feeling and it can be easy to assume that everyone else is happier than you but in actual fact, most people have highs and lows throughout their week. They may be smaller issues than mine but they are still issues that cause upset and need dealing with. Emotions are normal, missing someone so much that it hurts is normal, being sad and angry is normal. What we do with those feelings are a different matter and with the help of a counsellor I am learning coping mechanisms, I am learning to speak about painful times and accepting me for being, well, me!
I have also spoken to her about trivial problems, fall outs between friends and so on and even getting these out of my head and gaining an insight from somebody who doesn’t know me or the people I am talking about has been liberating. It is amazing how petty problems can linger with you for years and just by letting go of it all you can feel less bogged down. I think everybody could benefit from counselling no matter what they have been through, no matter how insignificant they believe their problem to be because we all carry baggage day in, day out that can contribute to our mental well-being and needs to be released in order for you to live a happier life. According to a recent survey, only 13% of us are experiencing good mental health and this statistic speaks volumes.
Counselling should not be seen as the last resort and I wish I had put my money worries to one side and seen somebody sooner. Counselling should also not be seen as a sign of a person being weak, it takes a lot of strength to pick up that phone and make that appointment and it takes even more strength to talk openly about the thoughts you probably only keep for yourself. I have sat here for a quite a few hours trying to put this post together because there is still an element inside of me saying that it is embarrassing to admit I need help but if this article helps just one person to make that call and book an appointment and perhaps even save their life then it has been worthwhile. We all deserve to live a happy, healthy life.
I am lucky to be involved in a very supportive blogging community and even though we may all have different reasons for starting our blogs and write about varied topics we all do it to connect with others and to hopefully help someone, whether that be through laughter, parenting advice, beauty advice, travel ideas or our own personal stories. Some of these bloggers heard about this piece and wanted to share their experiences of receiving counselling.
I had counselling through rape crisis and they were great. I was initially worried as I knew a lot of my problems weren’t directly linked to the rapes and were more generalised and that also my rapes were not what most people perceive when they think of rape (it was in a relationship rather than stranger rape) so I was anxious about whether they could help me or not but went anyway after referring myself and it was the best thing I did. Counselling helped me see that the rape and other domestic abuse I suffered was not my fault and that due to other issues in my past that I had not overcome I had stayed in the relationship feeling it was what I deserved. The counselling looked at the rapes as well as my self-confidence in general and the history of that and worked at my pace with me some weeks unable to say much and just crying and other weeks talking lots. Accepting counselling doesn’t mean you did anything wrong it just helps you accept and understand what has happened and helps you to move on free from guilt, or it did in my case anyway.
Jen blogs at Just Average Jen
I’ve had counselling for the past year to help me to come to terms with my Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis and the limitations I now face following my last relapse. I just had my last session and I’m in a much better place now than I was even just a few months ago. It was really hard to admit I needed help at first and I was really dubious about how useful it would be but I’m so glad now that I accepted help, I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is struggling in life. Through counselling, I learnt how to manage my anxiety, gained access to a really useful fatigue management course and met other people dealing with MS too, definitely worth ignoring the stigma for!
Natalie blogs at Surviving Life’s Hurdles
I had counselling following a breakdown in my second year at uni. It helped me address issues I’d been burying for years and come up with strategies for recognising my signs of increased anxiety and strategies for dealing with it.
Suzanne blogs at and another ten things.
I suffered from depression in my late twenties. I was in a relationship that just wasn’t right for me, but I could not put my finger on what was wrong and whether it was wrong enough to go through the upheaval of changing it. I had counselling which helped me see more clearly. It was as though she sort of held up a mirror for me to see myself with more clarity.
Nikki blogs at Yorkshire Wonders.
I’m currently on the waiting list for my first counselling session after plucking up the courage to speak to my GP about past experiences that have been uprooted since the birth of my Son. I’m also getting support to manage my dyslexic traits such as disorganisation which affects almost every aspect of my life.
Danielle blogs at This Woman’s Word.
I had bereavement counselling for 12 months after my son died. Without it I genuinely would not be here today. That one hour a week was the only thing that kept me going, being able to get out every thought in my head, rant and cry and pour my heart out. It got me through the hardest time of my life.
Laura blogs at Five Little Doves. If you have experienced baby loss her blog is the one to follow.
Although it took me almost two years to pluck up the courage to visit my GP and talk about my problems, my parents knew not to push me and that people will only want help when it is on their terms. There was a huge sigh of relief and a weight lifted when I eventually booked a doctors appointment. This was the first day of my journey to being better mentally, physically and emotionally. When I asked the GP for a referral to see a counsellor, she immediately got me in contact with a psychotherapist and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) sessions. I attended quite a few sessions for about a year. I also did some research around mental health and read up on depression and suicide through MIND, a charity supporting and helping individuals who have a mental health issue. Their resources were invaluable to me.
Katie blogs at Kiki and Ginge.
I want to say a huge thanks to all of you for coming together and speaking up to show how counselling can help.
If any of this has touched you, has made you think or if you have any further questions, please do message me or leave a comment. I will do a follow-up post this week with ways to cope with depression and what you can do to help the way you feel.
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11 thoughts on “Mental Health Awareness Week- Breaking the counselling stigma”
This post is really helpful. I need counselling for a lot of very difficult issues, but every time I have reached out I’m told there is a waiting list of at least 6 months and I can’t afford private, even my local mind which has subsidised sessions has a long waiting list. So I continue with antidepressants and friends that will listen. It’s not enough.
I really feel for you. I have been there so many times wanting to try and get help but when you see the fee’s it’s so easy to just carry on as you are. It’s not something we can really afford but I needed to talk and I needed to hear things from someone who didn’t know me and who has the knowledge and experience. After 2 sessions I had already put to bed some silly little issues that had been bugging me which has left me to be able to start to talk about my Mum. I hope the waiting list isn’t too long for you xx
Counselling is so important and so under-funded, I feel. My mum suffered with a cocktail of mental health issues during my childhood (and I firmly believe some now though she has grown very adept at masking them) and we were never offered counselling. When we were put into foster care we were not offered counselling. When my mum tried to take her own life (more than once) and I was the one to find her – no counselling. and finally, When I tried to take my own, the same again. More nothing. I feel that these days I am better at recognising the signs of a downturn in myself and well-equipped to take steps to stop the big D in its tracks, but that is only because my mum and I are now in a place where we are very open and are able to almost counsel each other. I will never cease to be angry with a system that allows people to struggle knowing that there is a potential way to ease the pain. What a brilliant & important post. #RV&HT
It is dreadful how so many people have been let down. How many people have taken their own lives because the help just wasn’t there?! I don’t understand how you can either just be thrown pills or just left to battle on. Thank you for reading and I am so glad things are getting better for you xx
I so agree with all of you on how important this is. I had CBT to deal with anxiety and it really did help. I’ve just been to my GP about something else. I think there will be more on my blog shortly about this if I get up the courage to speak about it xxx
Oh yeah I know what you mean. I almost didn’t hit publish on this one but I thought if I don’t I won’t be helping others. I don’t know why it is seen as embarrassing, we need to move on from that don’t we? Good luck with it all x
I’ve had depression/anxiety for several years now; when I first went to the Dr, I was offered: a) do nothing, b) self-help books on prescription, or c) tablets. Since I physically couldn’t stop crying and wasn’t really sleeping or eating, I took the tablets.
I don’t regret that in the slightest – my tablets have saved my life. I also get annoyed with the anti-medication stigma that is around a lot. I *need* the tablets. As soon as I don’t, I’ll be off them.
I’ve never been offered counselling though. I’m not saying I would’ve taken it: I don’t get on with people, or trust strangers, easily – but I’ve always felt like it should’ve been offered.
Well done for writing this post – it can be difficult to talk about these things, but it’s *so* important!
Yes I do believe that in certain cases and the pills do work and as there are so many hopefully some work well for people. In my case they caused me to become suicidal and I took an overdose which is why I will never take them again. I have always found the idea of speaking to a stranger a little unnerving but as soon as I met my counsellor it was like I had known her for ages and she is so friendly, as is her little dog, that I can speak openly to her. I must admit that I looked at their photos online before picking one. But I guess I had a woman in my head. I am so glad I have finally done it and after just a couple of month I am now taking a little break to see how I get on. The grief will never go away and neither will those down times or that unhappy part of me but she has taught me how to deal with them and to stop resisting the pain and to instead just go ahead and have that crappy day, have a cry and be open about how I feel.
Oh you def. need a Doctor to monitor you on tablets! My doctor made me make a phone appointment after 2 weeks on them to discuss how I was feeling. I’m well aware that for many people tablets just *aren’t right* and other treatment options are totally the way to go there!
Everyone’s different though – and I have found some people are full-on anti-tablet (as opposed to just pro-whatever-treatment-works-for-you) – and that’s just not helpful.
I’m glad you’re feeling better!
My experience of counselling has always been bad. I’ve started it several times since I was a teen and always decided after one session that it wasn’t right for me.
I think possibly I’ve met with counsellors who haven’t been very good at what they do. One told me that all my problems were down to me not wanting to plat the violin. I was 20 at the time, playing for pleasure and only using it as an example of how I wasn’t enjoying the things I used to and how I felt too tired to do anything at all.
Another time, I met with a counsellor who told me I need to start scarf dancing to alleviate my depression. Yep. Scarf dancing. She didn’t even recommend breathing exercises or ask questions. I have only ever left counselling sessions muttering darkly about the counsellors I have met.
But I know it works for other. I know it should at least do some good for me. I’ve been thinking more and more about finding a private counsellor that I choose myself and gel better with. I’ve found planning my wedding has been hard. My dad died 5 years ago and I’m acutely aware of the empty space he has left beside me for my special day. I don’t want a fuss, I don’t want a traditional day because I don’t want to be reminded of his absence. I’ve been crying a lot and I think I need to find someone to talk to who won’t tell me dance with scarves. xx
Awww hun those don’t sound like good counsellors and I do think you need to take time to read about someone and also look at their pictures online. When I was sent a counsellor from the hospital to do a follow up after I took an overdose he actually told me I had a very sensible head on my shoulders and said I didn’t need any extra support… that was it. 13 years after my Mum died and I am still not right. Well, I thought I wasn’t right until this lovely lady told me that what I have been feeling is normal. I lost someone very close to me and my grief is still there and probably always will be. What we sometimes think isn’t ‘normal’ is normal for us and it is just how we are. I have doubted so much about myself and she has put it all in perspective. After about 6 sessions I am now taking a bit of a break as she has helped that much. I am with you on the wedding day thing and there were a lot of emotions on the day but it was amazing and everything I had ever wanted- you will be just fine xx