Students reflect positively on therapy, acknowledge stigma exists

Maddy Ruos, co-features editor

With mental health issues amongst teenagers anything but uncommon, some adolescents seek the help of a therapist or trained professional as a natural response to a condition of this type. However, according to a non-scientific Oracle-conducted survey of 267 students, while 111 students indicated they had thought about seeking the help of a therapist or counselor, only 46 of those students actually saw one. With this deficit in mind, the question arises: what is preventing the vast majority of students from getting the mental help they need?

For junior Lia Charley*, mental health has been a prevalent struggle throughout most of her teenage life. At the beginning of the school year, she entered an outpatient program at the Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health hospital in Hoffman Estates. Since returning to school, she has been seeing social workers both in and outside of South. Despite this support, she says her return has been very difficult.

“It came out of nowhere, and it’s just snowballed into this huge thing that just won’t go away,” Charley said. “I can’t do [anything] in school. I’m constantly having to check myself out and evaluate or doodle or read, and […] it’s just waves of overwhelming sadness and [a] huge weight [on me].”

Like Charley, junior Renee Aavik has also had difficulties with her mental health; she was diagnosed with severe depression in middle school and later borderline personality disorder. According to Aavik, she was forced to see a therapist after attempting to commit suicide and being taken to the emergency room.

“When I was brought to the emergency room, there was a security guard standing right outside my door and whenever I walked to the bathroom, [they were there] behind me, making sure [I didn’t] do anything,” Aavik said. “It’s really scary because I [didn’t] want anybody to see me when I’m going through this and I just wanted to be able do things on my own.”

Aavik says trying to find the “right” therapist that she could feel comfortable with took a long time. However, she credits her current therapist for providing her with needed relief from any emotional issue that may come up.

“[Choosing a therapist is] more of a personal thing,” Aavik said. “You have to have a connection with somebody because it’s really hard, especially if you’re still in that really hard emotional space, to tell a random person your thoughts or that you want to kill yourself or that you’re not happy.”

According to social worker David Hartman, stories like Charley’s and Aavik’s are not uncommon amongst teenagers. With such a large number of high schoolers experiencing mental health issues, Hartman believes that spreading awareness of its relevance is both a worthy and productive effort.

“The research suggests that one in [five] kids during their high school career will experience depression,” Hartman said. “That’s an incredible number. It’s a treatable illness, so let’s get that word out there and let’s talk about it and let’s treat it.”

According to Hartman, societal responses to mental health issues have often prevented people from seeking the help that they need.

“We have historically minimized the impact of emotional distress in people in general and if that’s the case, then as you deal with this level of emotion, it creeps up a little bit more each day,” Hartman said.

As evidence of this suppression, Aavik claims to know many people that have privately admitted that they need help for emotional struggles they are having but have chosen not to actually take that step and see a therapist. Aavik, recalling a close friend of her sister’s that is going through this situation, thinks that most people are prevented from seeing a therapist for fear of how others around them may respond.

“He doesn’t want to go see somebody because he’s scared that other people will judge him and he’s scared that other people won’t understand what’s going on,” Aavik said. “He’s scared that his parents are going to think something is really wrong and he thinks that he’s going to be treated differently.”

Freshman Lauren Garnet* also encountered personal resistance to seeing a therapist initially. Garnet started talking to a therapist at the request of her mother but said at first she hesitated because she didn’t think her situation would have benefitted from the help of a professional. After meeting regularly with her therapist, however, Garnet believes the sessions have been immensely relieving.

“I kind of took offense to my mom suggesting it; I was like ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’ and I don’t need to go to therapy, […] but I’m glad I ended up doing it,” Garnet said.

Garnet says she hasn’t told anyone about seeing a therapist because she believes there is a stigma attached to receiving mental health treatment that makes people equate seeing a therapist with being “crazy” or not being able to control one’s own life.

“Only my closest friends know that I go; it’s not really something I talk openly about because I don’t want people to just assume that I have a ton of issues that I have to talk about,” Garnet said.

Like Garnet, senior Sam Karlene* has also felt reluctant to share her experiences in therapy with others because of fear that they would treat her differently or act like she was mentally unstable. Karlene has struggled with depression and anxiety since her sophomore year. According to Karlene, because of the stigma around therapy, her conversations with others about mental health have been few and far between despite the relatively high number of her friends that were also going through similar things.

“For a long time, I didn’t tell anyone because it was a weird thing I didn’t want anyone else to know and I didn’t know anyone else that was going [to therapy],” Karlene said. “But slowly, I found out more and more of my friends were seeing [a therapist] too and we were all kind of going through the same thing.”

For those students who may be considering talking to a therapist for an internal emotional issue they are having but are hesitant to talk, Karlene urges them to fight the stigma, think of their own health and just try it once.

“I don’t think there’s any harm in [seeing a therapist], even if you’re unsure,” Karlene said. “Because if you’re unsure, you can go get some clarity on it. It feels weird to take that leap and actually go to someone’s office and talk to them […] but to do that is really important.”

Like Karlene, senior Isabel Spingola also dealt with difficulties with her mental health since sophomore year as a result of cyberbullying and relationships with family members. She has regularly utilized the social work services provided at South to help combat adversity throughout her high school career. Spingola believes that despite the stigma surrounding therapy, it’s imperative that everyone feels they can talk through the emotional problems in their own life with someone they trust.

“Talking through problems isn’t something you should be ashamed of; it isn’t something you should fear,” Spingola said. “Everyone goes through problems and if anything, reaching out and asking for help is a very noble thing to do. It’s hard to struggle alone. Everyone knows that, but because of the stigma and because people want to look strong, that prevents them from getting the help that they really need.”

*Names have been changed