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Challenges to seeking help

A recent New York Times article highlighted the difficulty many people face in deciding whether or not to seek help for emotional problems. The article describes a recent privately conducted research study that concluded that 19% of the 1.6 million members of the American military who have recently served in Iraq or Afghanistan have symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder or major depression. Of the 19%, however, only slightly more than half have sought help.

There are many reasons that people are reluctant to seeking help for emotional difficulties. One reason is the commonly held belief that one should be able to handle whatever life throws one’s way, and that seeking help is akin to cheating, or to admitting defeat. Many people truly, deeply believe that the problems they are experiencing are their own fault, and thus, it would wrong to seek help. While it may be true that they have contributed to these problems, it is often untrue that seeking help would be a copout. For example, let’s say that you had a close friend who started to drink too much. Let’s say this drinking became a problem in their lives, and affected your friend’s relationships and work. Fortunately, your friend recognized that the drinking had become problematic, but blamed themselves for “letting things get to this point” and insisted that cutting back on drinking was the only answer to their problems – “simple as that.” Wouldn’t you want your friend to at least try to seek help, even if they ultimately decided that it wasn’t for them?

Ultimately, whatever change does happen in psychotherapy occurs because of changes made by the person themselves, regardless of any guidance from a therapist.

Another factor that plays into reluctance to seek help is described very well in the New York Times article – fear of one’s employer finding out, resulting in negative consequences. In the case of the military, servicemen and women are typically aware that their commanding officer has access to their full medical records, which would include any mental health services received, especially those received from the U.S. Military health system. For people outside of the military, working in the private sector, there are often similar fears. A typical source of these concerns is the question of whether a company’s human resources department can obtain personal health information from the health insurer. Unfortunately there is often little information available about how justified this concern may be.

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