Why people who need help with their mental health won’t go and get it?

The effects of the problem

Self-stigma is, if not the biggest, at least a major obstacle that  prevents people from seeking psychotherapy or counselling when they face mental health issues. Many feel that they should be stronger, tougher, harder when what they really need is the courage to admit that they need help, and reach out for it. Since mental illness is often stigmatised in society as well, this increases self-stigma, putting up a barrier to asking for help, leading to feelings of isolation and fear in addition to the original mental health issue.

So people plod on, with often worsening long-term mental health issues and possibly, suicidal thoughts. The World Health Organisation states that 264 million people around the world suffer from depression, with rates of anxiety and other mental health conditions on the rise as well.

Self-stigma is a self-built, high wall that stops people getting the mental health support they need and are ultimately seeking.

Self-stigma is the elephant in the room. To overcome it, we must first understand it: self-stigma arises from a culture and society’s sometimes unspoken biases and prejudices against mental issues. This we then internalise. This reinforces a negative view of mental health issues. If we find that we ourselves have a mental health issue, we apply this negative evaluation to ourselves, as if they were true.

Overcoming social stigma can be difficult. Sometimes it is due to the severity of the situation, an implosion, if you will, at other times it is recognising ones own thoughts and beliefs that are holding us back from seeking help, then challenging them with evidence and reasoning, and sometimes just being brave and taking a dive into the unknown. 

Where self-stigma exists, seeking help from mental health professionals can be challenging. Still, it is important to know that mental health professionals provide a safe, confidential, empathetic and non-judgemental environment for you to discuss your issues. 

Where does the self-stigma come from?

Society recruits us into believing that we must be happy all the time. If we do not have the skills to do this then we are to blame: we are somehow broken. Over time this leads to us internalising this as being to blame. This makes it more difficult to ask for help. Far better if we were to treat a mental health issue, the same as, a broken leg for example, where we have no self-stigma, and seek professional help, which enables and shortens the time needed for healing.

How Psychotherapy Works.

As a psychotherapist, I see many patients and clients with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions who are benefiting from counselling, but who were reluctant to seek it. They were often overwhelmed, feeling hopeless, like no one could understand or help them. For years, they worried about what others would think and feared the judgement of others and professionals. Sometimes, they would see everyone but a mental health professional before coming to see me, treating the symptoms, looking for a temporary ‘fix’ to problems that were deep and dark and not shifting. There seems to be less stigma of going to an astrologer, Reiki, or other alternative healers than seeing a psychotherapist like me. The biggest reason for this is self-stigma.

One of the biggest benefits of counselling is that it provides individuals with an opportunity to speak about their thoughts, feelings and emotions freely, without being judged, criticised, ostracised or punished. Contrary to popular belief, counselling is not just for people with severe mental illnesses; it is for anyone who wants or needs to talk and find the best outcome for the challenges they are facing.

Psychotherapists know that there is no problem too big or small, boring or exciting, embarrassing, unexpected, harmful or harmless that it can be brought up in counselling. Counselling and psychotherapy have the ability to improve individual self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy, helping clients build positive and meaningful relationships with themselves and others.

By moving something, a thought, feeling, or experience out of the dark, shedding light on it, approaching it from different angles, its power over a person can be reduced, minimised, and ultimately, in most cases, removed. Alternatively by learning coping mechanisms and communication skills, counselling can also help individuals regulate their emotions, decreasing levels of anxiety and depression.

Counselling can also help individuals form a better understanding of themselves, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, enabling them to identify and create happy and healthy patterns, enabling them to move towards making positive changes that improve their lives and that of those around them.

Self-stigma is a significant obstacle that prevents individuals from seeking help for mental health issues. However, if you are curious enough to take a first tentative step towards it, most mental health professionals and all the psychotherapists at AMindset, are open and willing to talk about how it works, answering your questions and concerns. If you do take the leap, it can lead to significant benefits, including improved self-esteem, healthy relationships and an all-round better life.

Elise Phillipson


Elise Phillipson is a psychotherapist at AMindset (AM) in Central, HK and Central Health Medical Practice in Discovery Bay.​ You can find out more about Elise here.

Please complete the AMindset intake form if you want to start your therapy with Elise or another AM team member. Our therapists offer a FREE 20-minute introductory session for new clients.

Other Articles from Elise:

Christmas Alone 


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