What counseling is and why you should be open to it.
Anyone who’s ever considered getting mental health treatment will know it’s a strangely difficult choice. The first step requires not only admitting that you have a problem, but that the problem is so serious you are no longer in control of the situation.
Instead of taking that first step, it’s much easier to just ride the wave of terrified optimism and tell yourself that you are, in fact, in control of the situation, as if this disease is just God’s way of measuring your willpower (or something like that), even though you aren’t actually Christian.
Yet when those lies begin to obviously fall apart, you are left with the same unsolved problem and the same choice.
Instead of making the right choice, you begin to spend all your time stressing about the logistics: How will you fit an hour of counseling into your “busy” schedule? What kind of excuse will you give if you run into someone you know? How will you mark appointments in your calendar so that the person sitting next to you won’t be suspicious? What if they tell you to take medication? What are the side effects?
Despite all these procrastinating concerns, almost exactly one year ago I finally had to admit it: I was absolutely not in control of the situation, and alternating between trying to perform cognitive behavioral therapy on myself and calling psychology a “fake science” was not going to fix it.
So I took that first step.
I thought it’d feel as dramatic as jumping across a canyon, but honestly it was just a step. Our brains have this amazing way of making things seem more difficult and complicated than they really are, and I’m here to testify as to what the reality of seeking counseling actually is.
First, Counseling and Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is a stellar service. It is located right in the Smith Center, which is right in the heart of campus and is actually more than an ugly mess of concrete now. There is almost no wait time for your first appointment — a miracle when you consider how some universities have a three-month long queue. The people there are actually nice. And finally, for students who have paid the Student Health Fee, the cost of these services are covered in full by the University. There is therefore no reason why you shouldn’t at least try it out. The people will work with you to find a solution that works, even if it takes months to do so.
Second, the logistics for initiating counseling are really not that hard. That first thirty-minute phone call is straightforward, and all the data they take from you is carefully reviewed by your counselor before the first meeting, meaning that you aren’t ever wasting your time. An hour a week is pretty easy to fit into your schedule and can be sandwiched in between classes. There are more than enough euphemisms to fill your calendar with. And I never ran into anyone I knew — but if I did, I really should have been having an honest conversation with them about why we were both there anyway.
Finally, realize that getting help does not mean giving up control. I may have enrolled in counseling when I was the most helpless, but counseling ended up being the most empowering thing I did for myself all semester. Not only did I learn to approach my mental illness as something separate from who I was as a person, I learn also to analyze and tackle it constructively with the help of a professional. After all, psychology is not a “fake science,” and while counseling is not a magic bullet, it is a leap towards recovery.
All of this writing is just a long-winded way of me saying, if you need help, go get it. Far too many of us have dealt with mental illness or know a friend who suffers from it to stay quiet. If we don’t take that first step for ourselves or find the courage to drag our friends towards it, no one will.
Elizabeth Y. Sun ’19, a former Associate Editorial Executive, is a Government concentrator in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.
Read more in OpinionLost in Transformation
Calling for Consistency at CAMHSWhen the University blatantly refuses to apply equal scrutiny to its mental and physical health services, it perpetuates the stigmatizing and harmful culture of disparate coverage of mental health.
More than Just the Therapy
An Update on the Harvard Undergraduate Council’s Mental Health Initiatives
Hearing Those Who Hear UsWe regret that the administration does not provide adequate funds for food and other expenses for some of the students who are most dedicated to the mental health of our campus.
Indigo Peer Counseling To Return in Fall 2017