Comedian Aparna Nancherla has said that anxiety is like having an “edgy improv group in your brain,” which just needs a one word suggestion to spin countless scenarios that no one is comfortable with. To me, this description hits the nail on the head.
My own experience with anxiety has led me to irrational behaviors, like jumping off my train commute before arriving at my destination for no reason other than the conviction I would die if I stayed on. On bad days I’ve questioned why anyone would go outside, read a book, travel, participate in the world, if everything was finite and nothing mattered.
Insomnia and being incapable of relaxation were often a consequence of these thoughts. I was underperforming at work, sneaking in suspiciously long bathroom breaks to avoid crying in front of my colleagues. Shortly afterwards I was fired and my descent into depression continued, leaving me unable pick myself up from the floor let alone tackle my problems.
Until recently I wasn’t able to prescribe labels like “depression” or “anxiety” to myself, and I’d never even considered therapy. I felt undeserving of seeking out mental health services (surely there were people worse off than me?). I thought my feelings were a phase and that overthinking every interaction with others and every decision I’ve made in the past was normal. I told myself: “You’re just neurotic.” I tried convincing myself that obsessing over everything was just an expression of my dramatic personality. And anyway, wasn’t being sad a thing now? On trend, even?
It took me a long time to give myself permission to seek out mental health services because so much of my identity is wrapped up in the idea of being this cool, fun, extremely extroverted person — traits that aren’t generally associated with anxiety and depression.
Our society is beginning to speak more openly about issues like depression and anxiety, but it can still be incredibly difficult to address these issues — not just to friends and family, but also to yourself. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up some questions you might encounter if you’re thinking of seeking out mental health treatment.
What Problems Can Therapy Help Me With?
Therapy can be a great tool for people in various stages of life, it doesn’t just have to be for diagnosable illnesses. However, according to a systematic review of data and statistics from community studies in European Union (EU) countries (the review looked at data from Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), 27 percent of the adult population have experienced symptoms of at least one mental disorder in the past year. These included problems arising from substance use, psychoses, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.
If you are experiencing any symptom that is hindering you from participating fully in life or performing well at work, you don’t have to struggle in solitude — a trained professional can help.
How Do I Find a Therapist?
Unfortunately, even getting through to a therapist’s office can prove to be a difficult task. Getting an appointment at a psychotherapist’s office generally takes anywhere between three weeks and several months, depending on the area where you live. You often also don’t have a choice of what kind therapy you get — you’re usually offered short-term CBT, which doesn’t work for everyone.
If you feel you need immediate help or are in danger of hurting yourself, it is vital to seek out emergency services through a crisis center or suicide prevention hotline. Berlin’s “Krisendienst” is a good short-term option for those living there, while people suffering from a mental health crisis in the UK can check the NHS’s list of resources on its website, and in the US you can find tons of resources online as well.
According to Lily*, a psychotherapist in training in the UK, you have the option of “trying a few therapists for size to find one who you ‘click’ with” if you are privately insured. “Ultimately it’s the relationship between you and your therapist that’s the key factor in making therapy work for you,” she says. “So this route means you can choose your best fit.”
She adds, “The wait times for this are definitely the shortest. The downside is the cost. However often therapists will operate on a sliding scale and offer a reduced fee if you’re on a lower income — so don’t be afraid to ask therapists if they can offer you this.”
What If I Can’t Afford Private Therapy or I’m Uninsured?
In this case, the voluntary and charity sectors can be a good place to start. This is where therapists in training work to build up their clinical hours. These services offer therapy either free or at a very low cost, and offer you anywhere between six sessions and up to a year of one-on-one therapy. “Six to 12 sessions is about average,” says Lily. “I wish I could say the waiting lists were short here, however you’re looking at anything from three-nine months because demand is exceptionally high”.
Will There Be Setbacks?
Waiting lists, lack of choice and costs are among some of the biggest setbacks you’re likely to face, according to Lily. “Unless you have the resources to go private you’re looking at waiting many weeks, if not months, to see a therapist.” A lack of information as to what’s available to you and what your options are can also be a problem. “With my own experience on the NHS a while back, I felt that my options weren’t clear,” she says. “I was initially offered medication, but back then I had no idea what the alternatives were.”
She adds, “I asked for therapy but my referral got lost and I was given the option of group CBT, which didn’t help. After I fed this back I was told I could be referred for 12 sessions of one-on-one therapy, but I’d have to wait six months.”
What Should I Tell My Boss and Coworkers?
Ideally, all working environments would have an open and understanding culture around mental wellbeing in which managers are supportive of their staff and feel equipped to have conversations about mental health. If you feel you really need to tell your employer (e.g. you’re feeling overwhelmed with your workload and it’s making you feel depressed or anxious) a quiet one-to-one catch-up with your line manager could be a good way to start.
And My Friends?
The more we talk about mental health the more the stigma dissolves, which is a good thing. After all, one in six of us will experience issues with mental health. Lily says, “Most importantly it’s how you feel about it – nobody should suffer in silence, but equally you shouldn’t feel you have to disclose if you don’t feel comfortable.”
If you want to say something, maybe start by saying how you’re feeling and how it impacts on your day-to-day life. Perhaps you often cancel plans because you can’t face going out, or you just don’t have the energy. By telling them the truth, they’ll have a better understanding of where you’re coming from (and hopefully they offer to listen and offer support), and you won’t feel as alone. They may even be experiencing similar things themselves, too.
Just having someone listen and not judge you should help. Friends don’t need to provide solutions, they just need to listen and do their best to understand.
*Name changed at the request of the interviewee.
Now, here are eight meditation apps to help you achieve personal nirvana.
- Words: Caroline Whiteley
- Illustrations: Stephan Cheetham