The author lives in Virginia, USA.
“You should go talk to a mental health counselor.”
This advice came as a huge surprise. I had just told a close friend about how stressed I was about getting into a prestigious accounting program, maintaining relationships, and dating as a recently returned missionary. I had never even considered the idea of therapy, and I felt like talking to a counselor was only for people who had big problems or were too weak to deal with challenges on their own. My friend had only good things to say about his own experience talking to a counselor, so I began to consider it.
Soon my anxiety got worse. After sleepless nights of worrying, I decided to schedule an appointment. I was nervous about what other people might say or think if they knew I was going to see a counselor, but at that point my anxiety was affecting my ability to function, so I went.
At the appointment, the counselor asked lots of questions that helped me come to answers on my own. The counselor didn’t give me a magic solution to my struggles. He also didn’t treat me like I was crazy—he had seen a lot of people with struggles similar to mine. In some ways, it felt like going to a medical doctor. He was a professional with experience in diagnosing the problem and had the expertise to teach me how to prevent and treat anxiety.
Along with other suggestions, the counselor suggested that I write my feelings and thoughts in my journal. This was a huge help in overcoming my anxiety. I also kept exercising, spending time with friends and family, eating healthily (or as healthily as a guy in college who was cooking for himself could), studying the scriptures, attending church, and praying.
After meeting with the counselor a few times, two things changed for me: First, I had new, healthier perspectives on my anxieties, myself, and other people; and second, I felt like I had helpful tools I could use in future anxiety-provoking situations. I wasn’t completely cured of anxiety, but I felt like I could deal with it better when it flared up again. Since then, I haven’t had to go back to the counselor, but if I ever needed to, I wouldn’t be worried about getting help—I’ve learned that there’s no reason to suffer in silence or be embarrassed of seeking professional help for a mental health issue.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma around mental health treatment, but that may be because some don’t understand that meeting with a mental health professional is essentially the same as getting treated for any other physical illness. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “If you had appendicitis, God would expect you to seek a priesthood blessing and get the best medical care available. So too with emotional disorders. Our Father in Heaven expects us to use all of the marvelous gifts He has provided in this glorious dispensation.”1
Mental health needs are also somewhat hidden issues. They’re not as easy to talk about as getting the flu or breaking a bone. But they are just as common. The World Health Organization estimates that many people with severe mental health problems receive no treatment: between 35 and 50 percent in developed countries and 76 to 85 percent in developing countries.2
Getting the help you need is not a sign of weakness or failure. Heavenly Father wants us to be healthy, mentally and physically, and has given us many “marvelous gifts” to help us cope with the mental and emotional challenges of mortality, including:
Friends and family
Living the gospel
Getting enough sleep
A mental health professional
We won’t always be able to fully overcome all mental health challenges in this life, and there usually aren’t easy, one-size-fits-all solutions. But as we do our best to help ourselves using the tools Heavenly Father has given us, the Savior will help us bear up our burdens with ease (see Mosiah 24:15), and we will be blessed with strength and hope for our efforts.