By TODD SOUTER, Ph.D.,
Davis Behavorial Health
Between the time I spent in graduate school, on internship, and working as a psychologist, I have been in the field of mental health for 25 years.
Graduate students and interns learn about all kinds of things like psychological theories, personality development, human behavior, and emotional disorders. When I came out of graduate school, I felt smart, educated, and prepared to take on whatever came my way. Looking back on things now, I have realized that, at that time, I really didn’t know much of anything.
I became aware of so much more when I married and then later had children. That is when I really began to realize how difficult emotions, relationships, communication, and life can be. Trying to incorporate my wife’s family with my family and trying to build our own immediate family is when I learned that mental illness, mental health conditions, and mental health symptoms are present in every family. Statistics say that mental illness is present in anywhere between 15 to 20 percent of the population, but what I have figured out during the course of my career and the development of my own family is that mental health difficulties are present everywhere.
Sometimes the symptoms are chronic, profound and long lasting. Other times the symptoms are very short-lived and only have a minimal effect on personal or a family functioning. The unfortunate thing, from my perspective, is I often will see people who feel ashamed or guilty about the fact that they are struggling with depression, anxiety, or confusion in their thinking. I regularly see people who feel like they are letting others down when they make poor decisions or have difficulty figuring out the right direction to take.
There is no difference between having a mental illness and having some other type of biological or medical condition like diabetes, thyroid problems, or migraine headaches. Illness happens to all of us, and we do not ask for or deserve it. There is no shame or guilt in experiencing mental health symptoms, and it is not your fault if you are going through a period of depression, anxiety, or some other mental health condition. One of the things that I tell families is that the problems they are experiencing are not anyone’s fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility to help make improvements.
Over the 25 years that I have been in this field, I have seen great improvements in the effectiveness of treatment and in the technology of medications. Mental health conditions and symptoms are treatable. People do not have to live with symptoms they are experiencing. I have seen people be reluctant to seek treatment because they feel guilty or ashamed over their mental health symptoms. There is no reason for guilt or shame whatsoever. Mental illness is a biological condition.
I remember a graduate school lecture where the professor told us that the only reason for a person to feel guilt or shame is if that person had done something wrong. If you have a mental health condition; if you experience mental health symptoms; or if you are having problems in your family due to mental health issues, you have done nothing wrong.
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