Everyone’s a little messed up: Counseling isn’t just for the mentally ill

BY ANNA LANDSVERK

landsveran@mnstate.edu

At 1 a.m., as I sit on my couch doing homework by the glow of my computer screen, a familiar harp notification rings through my headphones. The email reads: “This message is to remind you of your appointment scheduled at Hendrix Clinic and Counseling Center.” It’s my next counseling appointment, and I can’t wait.

Mental health issues among teens, college students and millennials are drastically on the rise. The explanations for these spikes in self-harm, depression, attempted suicide, anxiety and mental breakdowns are myriad and inconclusive, covering everything from social media to helicopter parenting to rising student debt.

But, for all the coverage on young people’s sorry mental states and what they are trying to do about it, very few articles have covered people who do not experience a diagnosable mental illness but still struggle to get through their day-to-day life because of the emotional weight they may be carrying.

That’s why, when I was considering counseling for the first time, I thought I didn’t really deserve treatment. I knew people who had depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and other conditions, and I knew what I was going through paled in comparison.

“Why do I deserve special treatment?” I thought. “There’s nothing wrong with me; I’m just having a tough time. I need to suck it up and figure out how to deal with my s— on my own.”

So I tried—and failed.

What I was missing, and what so many other students continue to miss, is that counseling is an overlooked tool for bettering oneself, not just trying to reduce suffering. Even in the age of self-care, when advocates for mental health seem to be beckoning everyone to give their brains a break, this message still doesn’t come through.

Counseling is seen as a last resort, a catchall for the desperate or the long-term patients progressing toward stability. It is not a normal part of a healthy routine like smoothie bowls, yoga or reading before bed. This is not to say everyone needs therapy, but it should not be seen as an admission that something is “broken” and needs to be “fixed.” As we continue the fight to lessen the stigma surrounding mental health, we also need to talk positively about therapy and other forms of treatment for anyone struggling with their emotional states.

In my short few months in counseling, I have already learned a lot about myself and what I am capable of. In fact, I realized I could reduce stress and think more clearly about my issues just by talking about them with an unbiased person. Unlike with a friend or parent, I’m not afraid of what my therapist thinks or whether it will be too much for her to bear. Her job is literally to talk to and listen to me. Since I tend to overthink how other people will react (something she and I have discussed), it is freeing to know I’m not taking up her precious time.

College is perhaps the best time to try counseling, especially here. Not only is it free to all students, but there can be as few or as many sessions as you would like. Now that we are away from our families and old support networks, emotional difficulties may surface or be exacerbated amongst the never-ending stress and pressure. Most of the time, these kinds of issues don’t just disappear with time, so it’s better to leave college with a better idea of what you have to work on than to keep suppressing the pain and hoping that works. Even if it is just for a few weeks or months, the mental payoff is worth it. I’m leaving MSUM with a clearer mind, head held high, grateful for the help I’ve received along the way.

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