Unmasking The Complexities of Mental Healthcare

Unmasking mental healthcare

Table of Contents

Seeking mental health services is not easy. It is both logistically and emotionally challenging. Unfortunately, many of us grew up in homes where mental health was not discussed, and we do not know how or when to ask for mental health services. Many people incorrectly assume that the only time to seek mental healthcare is when there is a crisis, significant trauma, or severe symptoms.

We have been taught that we are not allowed to have symptoms, and if we do, we can’t show them, and our symptoms have to be proven to be believed. This is tricky because if you believe you have to prove your truth in order to access care AND you aren’t allowed to show or talk about your experiences, it can feel like nobody will believe you or provide the mental health support you need. This simply isn’t true.

One of the most challenging aspects of accessing mental healthcare is dropping the masks you have donned to appear as if you don’t need mental health support. It would be great if we lived in a world where you never felt like you had to put on a mask in the first place, but that is not the world we live in. Most of us start building our mask collection at a very young age.

It may start with imitation, and as a means of protection-we want to be accepted and included; we want to avoid shame and punishment. It is natural for our brains to want to protect us in this way. The problem is, when we start using masks to hide our true selves so that others will accept us, the parts of us that make us unique can start to feel rejected and abandoned. When we mask our unique qualities and our seeming imperfections and differences, we rob ourselves of genuine connection.

Not only that, when we put on a mask to fit in with one group of people, we quickly find that we need another mask for a different group of people. Before we know it, we are wearing and changing masks so often, we don’t even recognize our true unmasked selves. This in of itself, can create anxiety and low mood symptoms. Rather than feeling accepted and welcomed, we begin to feel disconnected from everyone, including our true selves. Now that we are feeling anxious and depressed, we have yet another mask to put on.

When someone experiences depression, the mask they often wear is the mask of functioning. This can look like smiling when you aren’t happy, forcing yourself to go to work, and even working more to avoid your feelings. Without receiving the mental healthcare you need, this can be exhausting!

Patients who experience depression often say that they don’t have anything left to give the people around them because they are doing everything they can to do the minimum in a way that doesn’t let others know what they are feeling. They are weighed down by their depression and the mask they are wearing to hide their depression.

In obsessive compulsive disorder, patients experience intrusive thoughts that cause anxiety and distress. In order to manage this anxiety, they engage in compulsions that don’t actually work. The people doing these behaviors, which can be actions, avoidance, or mental rituals, know that their actions don’t actually resolve their anxiety and intrusive thoughts (at least not for more than a few minutes), but the “what if” in their mind is so loud that they can’t seem to help themselves from trying their compulsion in the hope it will help. Because patients with obsessive compulsive disorder realize that their thoughts and behaviors do not work and are not necessary, they often don a mask to hide their symptoms.

This is a mask that can look like a mask of invisibility. Not only are they wasting their time battling intrusive thoughts and compulsions, but they are also working extra hard to make sure that the people around them don’t realize what they are doing. Wearing a mask to hide symptoms, isn’t something that just happens with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, patients with generalized anxiety, bipolar disorder, and attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder also do this. In fact, I find that regardless of what mental health distress symptoms my clients are experiencing, their distress is amplified by the masks they wear and the disconnect these
masks cause.

Let’s consider anxiety. Anxiety can be a natural response to stress, so why do we feel like we need to wear a mask so that others, including ourselves, don’t realize when we are anxious? For many of us, we put on masks to hide our symptoms because we have been taught that certain feelings are not safe or welcome. We may have even received messages that certain feelings are moral or personal failings.

We anticipate that any expression of uncomfortable thoughts, feelings, or behaviors, will be met with judgement, rejection, and ridicule. If we aren’t allowed to show our natural human range of emotions, how can we possibly know when our experiences are beyond the expected range and need intervention? For many people, this means waiting until their symptoms lead to a crisis or serious consequences. When mental
health symptoms go unrecognized and untreated, relationships, jobs, financial security, education, and physical health can decline.

So, how do we drop the masks and rediscover our true selves locked behind our masks? It starts with having a safe space to experiment with expressing ourselves, sharing our thoughts and feelings, and practicing new behaviors and patterns of communication. This is a part of every visit at Joy Spring Mental Health. Whether you are receiving medication management, therapy, or education services, you can know that you are safe and welcome to find and be your true self.

If you have become disconnected from the true you, I will take the time to be curious and kind and get to know you as you discover (or rediscover) yourself. You don’t have to wait for a crisis to begin this process. In fact, I recommend that any time your life is in transition, stress, or growth, you check in on the masks you are wearing and consider how they are working for you and if you might want to take them off.

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