When I was 11, I fell down some steps at school and injured myself. I cried and screamed so loudly and for so long that everyone was sure that I’d broken my ankle quite badly. Even I was sure. But when I went to the hospital, they told me that I’d only torn a ligament – a common injury that would heal in a few days. They gave me crutches to walk with until it healed. Ashamed and embarrassed by how much I’d carried on about it, I told everyone it was a really bad fracture, and that the doctor had told me I was very brave. Everyone believed me, being as naive as eleven year olds are. Of course, I felt bad about lying, but worse about how much I had carried on about practically nothing.
Recently, a friend of mine opened up to me about some things that were going on with her mentally. Despite my insistence, she refused to talk to someone who could help. When I asked what was the worst that could happen, she replied, “What if it’s nothing? What if it’s just me being dramatic?”.
I had nothing to say to that. The more I thought about it, the more I realised how silencing that question could be. Not just for me, trying to help a friend, but for so many people who would be thinking “Should I go see someone?” only to decide “I’m just being dramatic”.
What do you do when the idea of not having a diagnosis is even scarier than having one?
Here’s where the misconceptions come into play – counselling is not a diagnosing machine. Counselling is not input bad thoughts, output diagnosis. It’s is not the doctor, it is the crutches. Counselling is help. Whether that comes with a diagnosis has nothing to do with it.
When you go to the counselling centre, they don’t ask why you’re there. You don’t have to tick a “mental illness” box to justify talking to someone. Get counselling if you need it, and get counselling if you don’t, because you have nothing to lose.
The taboo around mental health has existed for years, and is really only just starting to break down. Slowly, we’re seeing people coming forward with their mental health issues. We’re seeing discussions of how to improve youth mental health – especially at university, where rates of mental health are five times higher than the general population. We’re seeing mental health committees in academic colleges and ANUSA, Mental Health Week, and everything in between. The flipside of that is that it can be easy to feel as though without an attached diagnosis, you can’t ask for, or need, help.
The Counselling Centre can seem dominated by those with mental illnesses, and it can be easy to see the counselling centre as a service that not everyone is allowed. The difference, of course, is that the Counselling Centre is not a medical centre – or an exclusive service offered only to the diagnosed. It is a service that is provided to anybody and everybody who needs help. Never again in your life will you have such free and easy access to this service – and did I mention it was free?
So if you’re sitting there wondering, “but what if it’s nothing?” my question is, so what?
If you think you may be experiencing depression, anxiety, or another mental health problem, please contact ANU Counselling on 6125 2442, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.