Western Societal values have, in modern times at least, focused strongly on independence. With few exceptions we’re taught to be strong and to take care of ourselves. Those who “stand on their own two feet” are praised; those who choose to or need to lean on others are questioned and considered weak or lesser in some way.
Although there are undeniable benefits associated with having positive and effective coping strategies, and with being able to manage stress and adversity well, there’s also a dark side to the implicit assumptions underlying this philosophy.
The fact is, we can’t know everything and we can’t do everything we might need to take care of ourselves or to live a good and healthy life; consistent with this, we all need help sometimes and in fact seeking help can and often is in the best interests of all involved.
The problem, therefore, lies in attaching negative connotations to something (e.g. help seeking) that ultimately will, in fact, lead or contribute to positive outcomes.
Notably, however, it’s not all help-seeking behaviours that are judged harshly. Few, if anyone questions the decision to seek the advice of a lawyer in the face of legal issues; or an accountant when attempting to resolve financial matters. We easily accept that most of us aren’t and can’t be expert in the intricacies of the law or commerce and accordingly, others such as specialists, will often be far more knowledgeable and expert in these areas and, therefore, well worth consulting. Similarly, when one’s tooth aches or one’s bone breaks, we seek help from dentists and doctors.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all health problems; and especially for mental health problems. I say unfortunately because we know that for every person experiencing mental ill-health for example, the most common being depression and anxiety, only about 1 in 5 seek treatment. That means up to about 80% are suffering in silence; and suffering excessively, without proper treatment. And this is worse than just being sad; it impacts significantly and directly on the lives of those who’re personally experiencing mental illness but also, indirectly, on their partners, parents, children, family members and even colleagues.
Although we’ve seen massive improvements in recent years with other health problems such as breast cancer, where once women lived in ignorance or fear they now have benefitted from a number of great public education campaigns where information has been shared and stigma smashed; we’re yet to see the same level of success in other areas where men and women, old and young, still believe it’s a sign of weakness or failure to seek help.
Regardless of whether or not a person has played some role in his or her illness, shaming them achieves nothing positive; it does, however, achieve much that’s problematic including a worsening of illness which often just leads to more difficult and more expensive treatment. In most cases, as health problems go on untreated, they also cause more distress and/or disfunction for the person themselves, as well as impacting more significantly on the lives of carers.
Seeking help, therefore, is vitally important for everyone; and for our society. Seeking help reduces the cost and impact of illness and allows more people to thrive and flourish and contribute to a more positive society. Seeking help should, therefore, be seen as a positive step; one that enhances health and wellbeing and happiness. Seeking help, regardless of the problem being faced, is a sign of strength and courage and should be made as easy as possible for as many as possible.