In 2020 I found myself sitting in a cold, stale waiting room preparing for yet another doctor’s appointment. While the shiny-covered magazines and elevator music were the same, this time it was different – this time I was entering into my first-hour session of talk therapy.
That hour turned out to be the start of something life-changing and put me on the path to finding and really seeing my true authentic self for the first time. Chronic Illness is a hard load to carry….
No doubt, I am not alone in the need for mental health support. As a matter of fact, more and more people are coming out to share their stories.
What is meant by mental health?
Mental health is a broad term that reflects our mental, emotional, psychosocial, and physical well-being. Our mental health affects our behavior – and by understanding our stressors, triggers, and fallouts, we can better understand how we relate to others – in addition to making better choices for ourselves.
Mental health support can help people at all stages of life, from early life through the early stages to adulthood – and beyond! Even everyday living can be challenging for those who experience mental health problems.
Research suggests a complex relationship between biological factors, trauma and environmental stress as ways in which mental health issues arise for many people. Yet, many factors contribute to our overall well being that can be individual to each person’s life.
However, more and more individuals are proud to acknowledge their mental health journey. Many get a tattoo, wear apparel, or update social profiles to represent their support. The green ribbon and semicolon are the most prominent mental health symbols.
What is the symbol for Mental Health?
So, what’s a symbol of mental health? While there is the green ribbon associated with Mental Health Awareness Month in May, the most popular icon representing mental health journeys today is the semi-colon.
Joanna Roman, a sought-after tattoo artist shares on InStyle, “Semicolons are a very traditional, very popular mental health tattoo and they represent that it’s not the end,” explains Roman. “People use a semicolon to send the message that their story is still being written.”
Today, a person’s mental health is often represented with a semicolon as a symbol that connects those who live and struggle with mental illness together. It was started by the organization, Project SemiColon, which focuses on bringing awareness to mental health and suicide prevention. The Non-profit’s slogan is ‘Your Story Isn’t Over’ and offers support groups, resources and many ways to get involved to support mental illnesses around the globe.
What is the tattoo symbol for depression?
Semicolons are a deliberate tattoo choice for all mental illnesses – but are most often associated with depression and thoughts of suicide, addiction, and self-harm. This has been spreading across many countries to show solidarity and strength against the effects of suicide, depressive symptoms, or other mental illnesses.
Why is a semicolon used for mental health?
A semicolon tattoo helps remember how far you’ve come. It’s now an international symbol to raise awareness.
Celebs such as Selena Gomez & Tommy Dorfman have supported the movement by sporting semi-colon tattoos as well.
Rob Latour/Shutterstock via HollywoodLife.com
Why is mental health important for overall health?
Mental health is a major component of achieving overall health and well-being. Depressed individuals are more likely to develop a number of conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic illnesses.
In other words, chronic disease increases the possibility of mental disease. However, it’s important to note this can go the other way around too – poor physical health can result in poor mental health as well.
So, it’s not surprising that our mental wellness as a whole has been disrupted over the last few years.
Mental Health Providers Struggle to Keep Up
In 2020 alone, according to The National Alliance on Mental Illness approximately 17 million people experienced delays or cancellations to be seen [by a therapist], and more than seven million had delays in receiving medication.
Even two years past the heart of the pandemic we are seeing mental health numbers soar. Some are even defining the next public health crisis as mental illness!
Jessica Borelli, UC Irvine associate professor of psychological science notes,“Without a doubt, we’re facing a huge increase in demand for mental health services like nothing I’ve ever seen in my career before.”
Additionally, during a Senate committee hearing in February 2022 to address the nation’s growing mental health and substance abuse problem, Senator Patty Murray of Washington noted that nearly 130 million Americans live in places with less than one mental health care provider per 30,000 people.
Where to Start with Therapy?
There are numerous resources and databases out there to help us find therapists, counselors, and psychologists. Professional help can depend on your personal needs (PTSD, eating disorders, substance abuse, divorce, etc) and reaching out to one of these organizations is a great place to start.
But let’s be honest, it can also be a little overwhelming!
One streamlined option is Monarch – it’s the largest online therapist directory that sets up locations, therapists, and appointments all done online.
Reaching out for help and seeking a therapist can be a humbling experience and Monarch breaks down some of those barriers.
Resources to get started with therapy:
- Ask close friends or family for referrals
- Check out faith-based therapists listed with local churches
- Try online therapy such as TalkSpace or BetterHelp
- Ask your primary care physician for a referral
- Check your insurance database for in-network therapists
- Note: Students may have access to free on-campus counseling centers
I asked around for referrals to get started, but also keep in mind what works for one person might not work for you. And that’s OK!
Finding the Right Therapist
I’ve heard all kinds of stories of friends who started therapy but for one reason or another quit because they just weren’t getting what they needed from their therapist.
And you know what? They’re still struggling. And now they have written off therapy altogether. Damn.
So, if there’s any advice I can give from my personal experience it is this: KEEP GOING! Find a new therapist that’s a good fit for YOU! I promise you, they get it. A therapist cares and only wants what’s best for you. And if that’s moving on, they’re all for it. Don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings – your social well being is most important!
Connection and trust are at the heart of effective therapy. So, whether you are with your therapist in person, online, or even on the phone it’s important to feel heard. If you’re not building that deep sense of connection and on the same vibration, simply move on – but not out.
It took me three tries to get the right fit. The important thing is to not give up!
Even if you don’t think you’re suffering from a mental health condition, it can be helpful to talk to someone about your life!
Reframing the Stigma Around Mental Health
With research that shows one in five people experience symptoms of mental illness, it’s likely you have friends or family who have experience in this area.
So, why do we still get so hush-hush about it and feel embarrassed to talk about it?
I love the way Alexi Pappas describes her view on mental illness as an injury in her book, Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas. During Alexi’s treatment, her doctor helped her reframe mental health by comparing it to a broken arm – something that takes time and care to heal.
She shared in Forbes that her doctor explained, “Your brain can get injured just like any other body part, and it can heal just like any other body part.” By equating physical injury to mental injury, Alexi felt she could commit to healing her brain, just like an athlete commits to recovering from a physical injury.
It’s OK to not be OK
The message and re-framing of mental illness in a new light was a significant turning point for Alexi, and can be for many others. In the same way, an athlete heals and recovers from injury we need to heal and take care of a healthy mind. It’s ok to not be ok and reach out, speak up and seek help.
And I don’t think there is a better example than Simone Biles pulling out of the gymnastic team finals at the 2020 Olympics for her mental health. Think about the backlash and commentary she received for taking care of herself? When asked by reporters later what her goal was for these games Biles replied: ‘To focus on my wellbeing. You know, there is more to life than just gymnastics.’
It reminds us that while someone ‘looks ok’ on the outside, we never know what they may be going through on the inside. It’s the individual, like Simone, that has to say, ‘I’m not ok’!
Can mental health change over time?
Yes. It is important to remember that mental health is dependent upon many variables. If people have an overwhelming amount of needs and have limited coping skills, their mental health is threatened.
Most people who work longer hours, have a stressful job, experience past trauma, or are undergoing difficult circumstances, are at a greater risk for a shift in mood that results in mental health disorders.
My Personal Experience
During the thick of the pandemic, back in the summer of 2020, I finally agreed to go to my first ever therapy session. By this point, it was no longer a choice but a demand from my husband.
The strongest man I know had watched everything ‘rapidly fall from under me’ and I guess enough was enough!
I was suffering deep loss as my entire identity was collapsing before my eyes with chronic migraine. The titles I clung to so tightly such as runner, triathlete, marketing director, and health nut all were swept away as a carpet pulled right under me.
Chronic illness stripped me to the core and was (or is!) one of the scariest things to walk through. But what was left, as it turns out, is an authentic version of myself who was not hiding behind any predefined title.
Turns out the things we do or the titles we give ourselves aren’t the true ‘us’ at all.
Let’s just say I had a lot of learning and self-discovery to do! And my mental health changed dramatically.
No Better Time to Talk to Someone
It’s hard to really comprehend this, but almost one in five Americans lives with a mental health disorder or experience mental health conditions, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Please don’t suffer in silence. Talking to someone can be the first step and bring greatly-needed clarity to whatever you’re walking through. I honestly don’t know where I would be if I kept going the way I was going.
So, let’s keep the dialog going – the more we talk, the more we can do together.
And let me be the first to tell you today, YOU ARE ENOUGH.