Asking for help is not a sign of weakness

Florence Gallez calls on victims of mental illness to try something we already know doesn’t work, and is often dangerous to the individual: to tough it out, build up resilience, and get better on their own. Not only does this view run counter to virtually all research we have at our disposal today, but it is akin to asking victims with cancer to just try really hard to overcome it by themselves without seeking medical attention. Your body is just as incapable of getting rid of an illness like cancer as your mind is incapable of getting rid of an illness like depression. In fact, your body may even stand a better chance, as there’s no “immune system of the mind.” Gallez claims that we have everything we need inside of us, and by focusing on our needs and shutting out the noise of the world, we’ll get better. Gallez is wrong. Let’s take a look at what science has established with respect to mental illness.

First, if you have a mental disorder, you are not responsible for it. It does not make you weak, and you are in no way to blame for your disorder. Furthermore, refusing to seek help doesn’t make you strong, tough, or more self-reliant; it makes you stubborn and will likely cause you to become sicker. The stigma surrounding mental illness is largely an artifact of a bygone era, when mental disorders were believed to be caused by sins, weakness, or demons. Of course, we no longer live in such an age, yet some are slow to catch up. Science tells us that mental disorders are, in fact, physical, just like other maladies. The only difference is that mental disorders affect the brain. Depression, for example, can be caused by a simple chemical imbalance. And to use depression as an example, even if you escape a bout of depression without seeking help, the odds of recurrence are much higher than if you do seek help. Why go through it over and over again when you could just go to the doctor the first time?

Second, if you have a mental disorder, you are not alone. Sure, you’ve probably heard this before, but this is not just talk meant to be encouraging. Over the course of their lives, over half (57.4 percent) of all Americans will struggle with a mental disorder. It is more likely that you will suffer from such a disorder at some point than not. Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid affliction, someone you know may not be. And when the time comes that you, your spouse, child, or close friend is plagued by mental illness, should you tell them that self-reliance is the key? Should you tell them that if they just push through it, they’ll come out stronger? If you do, you’ll only be condemning them to worsening health.

Gallez talks a bit about practical tips that helped her, but she also has a different tolerance level for stress than everyone else here. Just like some people never get sick because their bodies are naturally better at coping with bacteria and viruses, others never get stressed because they are able to cope with higher levels of stress. More often than not, it is because these people have already sought help, not because they are somehow “stronger” than you. Whether you find yourself struggling with stress, depression, or something worse, seek help. At the very least, you might learn some helpful ways of coping with stress from a medical professional, and in some cases, you can prevent an even greater problem from seriously damaging your life. It also bears mentioning that the success rates of treating mental disorders are generally high. If you want to get better, seeking help is the way to go.

But where should you reach out if you or a friend needs help? MIT provides high-quality mental health resources. One that is utilized by about half of all MIT students during their time at the Institute is Student Support Services, popularly referred to as “S Cubed.” It’s located in Building 5, Room 104. As their website puts it, “whether you are having trouble with academic work for personal or medical reasons, you are considering taking time away from the Institute, or you just don’t know who to talk to, we can help.” They have walk-in hours from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and you can schedule an appointment between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. However, if you suspect that you are struggling with a mental disorder, then seek help at MIT Mental Health and Counseling, located on the third floor of E23 (MIT Medical). Again according to the website: “MIT Mental Health and Counseling Service provides individual counseling and psychotherapy, group counseling, evaluations, consultations, and neuropsychology consults. Their staff consists of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and nurses.” Their walk-in hours are from 2 to 4 p.m. on weekdays, and of course you can always schedule an appointment for another time. Peer Ears and Peer2Peer are two other new groups, run by students, which you can reach out to if you just need someone to listen.

MIT is difficult — no one is denying that. The recent spate of suicides along with Lydia K.’s recent blog post titled “Meltdown” have made two things abundantly clear: people are struggling and, more than that, people aren’t seeking help. The stigma surrounding mental disorders is unfounded, and we need to work as a community to beat it back. The way to do that is not to encourage people to isolate themselves and look within for strength because when they don’t find it, they’re going to think they’re weak. And no one finds it, not because they’re weak, but rather because it has nothing to do with strength. Mental illnesses are diseases that require medical treatment, whether that is behavioral or cognitive therapy, or medication. In some ways, mental health is like the issue of climate change in America; all the time and money we’re wasting as a country debating whether or not it’s happening could be put towards finding a solution. Similarly, the sooner we can eliminate the stigma and the blatantly incorrect, unfounded claim that self-reliance is all that is necessary, the sooner we can find better ways to help our community.