For the longest time, I didn’t think I was worthy of mental health care. My work in community mental health made me painfully aware of how limited the resources were–so many people I knew were struggling to access the services they so desperately needed. Many of my peers were dealing with severe mental health issues, such as depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. In comparison, my problems seemed small and insignificant. I felt like other people were more deserving of care, and that since I didn’t “need” to see a therapist, I shouldn’t. That mindset isn’t healthy–but it took until my junior year of high school for me to realize that.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he writes about how sometimes, small things can make a big difference. A small change to a product can completely change its popularity; a small action by one individual within a crowd can influence the actions of the entire crowd. In my case, a single event caused me to completely rethink the way I approach mental illness and mental health care–my own personal tipping point. This tipping point came in the spring of my junior year of high school, when I lost my friend Sarah to suicide. At that point, I had been working in mental health for three years, and suicide prevention was an issue incredibly close to my heart. Sarah’s death was tragic and unfair, and I was devastated. My grief made it impossible for me to continue life as normal–I could no longer balance school, extracurriculars, and my work in mental health. I stopped sleeping and eating regularly, and I started isolating myself from my friends and family. When I tried to work on mental health initiatives–something that usually brought me strength and joy–I felt defeated and hopeless. After a few weeks of wallowing in my grief and being miserable, I finally admitted I needed help.
Despite my pain, it was still hard for me to take the first steps toward seeking help. There was still a part of me that felt unworthy and undeserving of mental health care–a small voice in the back of my head told me I should just “get over it,” and that I should be able to recover on my own. But with the support of my family and friends, I pushed past my negative thoughts and made an appointment with a therapist.
As soon as I started going to therapy regularly, I wondered why and how I had gone so long without it. Before Sarah’s death, I never made space for self-care or reflection; I bottled up or suppressed my emotions, instead of taking the time to process my feelings. My initial conversations with my therapist caused me to realize that I had no way of healthily dealing with my feelings, and it was taking a toll on both my mental and physical health. Slowly but surely, I learned how to confront the things I was feeling, and began to accept my grief for what it was. Rather than be ashamed of my emotions, I embraced them. Slowly but surely, I began to heal–not only from Sarah’s death, but from everything else in my life that had brought me sadness or pain.
A year later, I am happier and healthier than ever. The road to recovery was long and difficult, but I’m still standing, and I feel stronger than I’ve ever been. And despite the fact that I am not currently dealing with a major loss or transition, I am still seeing my therapist.
For the longest time, I thought that therapy was reserved for “the mentally ill.” But now, therapy is just a regular part of my self-care routine. I’ve come to fully realize that mental health is a spectrum, and everybody is on it. Everybody needs help every once in a while, and that is okay. Sarah’s death was difficult, and I’m still heartbroken. But I am also grateful that it forced me to seek the help I so desperately needed. It made me realize that everyone–regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness–is deserving of mental health care.
My journey to recovery completely changed my perspective on the meaning of mental health, and reinvigorated my fight for mental health care. Through my work at Young Minds and other community organizations, I hope to make mental health services–like the ones I received–available to anybody who wants them. No kid should have to feel like they’re undeserving of the care that they need. If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be this: you are worthy. You are deserving of care and support, and you don’t have to do this on your own. You are never alone in this fight.
Originally published on the Young Minds Advocacy blog.