Step inside the waiting room of a doctor’s office. What do you notice? Despite a strict HIPPA compliant environment, there is a TV playing, magazines and toys available and a generally friendly environment. No matter how uncomfortable one is to enter the doctor’s office, it is an atmosphere which nevertheless strives to put people at ease, calm their nerves and encourage perfect strangers to strike up conversations. As a result, there is little shame that one feels walking into such an environment.
In contrast, when one walks into a mental health office, the experience is quite different. The appearance of “noise machines”, whose whirling sounds fill the air with white noise, creating an atmosphere where conversations should be withheld. It is an environment, where clients are not made to feel comfortable. Thus, when sitting nervously across from others in the waiting room, feelings of awkwardness and shame fill the air. Often, upon completion of the session, the clinician will have a separate door for exiting the building, so clients do not encounter others from the community.
Sadly, instead of breaking the mental-health stigmas, clinicians are the ones perpetuating them by creating such environments. My question is why do we put up this façade? As stigma is one of the greatest barriers to seeking treatment, mental-health facilities should be warm, welcoming and s-free settings.
If, in fact, others from my community are facing similar challenges, would it not benefit us both to share our struggles and successes with one another, rather than each person suffer in isolation? Research on the benefits of mutual-aid shows that the support from people who are facing similar challenges is often greater than the support offered by the professional. Therefore, conversations and interactions should be encouraged.
While professional help should never be overlooked, we should stop exacerbating the stigmas that are fueled in the waiting room. I would ask fellow mental-health providers to discuss stigma with their clients and help them recognize that there is no shame in seeking support. If anything, it takes great courage to stand up and admit that one needs help.
It is for that reason that I am proud to work with many of my clients remotely, offering sessions over the phone or video-chat. This allows them to feel most comfortable and have complete access to exploring various means of support, without the many barriers and challenges that the industry has created.
Let us begin to look at mental health services in the same way that we view physical health. Just as everyone needs to visit a doctor from time to time, so too, during the roller coaster that is life, we will all need some professional mental health support — and there is no shame in seeking it.