Covid-19 Is Breaking the Therapy Stigma

Colorado National Guard members prepare a COVID-19 testing site in Canon City, Colorado, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. Photo Courtesy of Colorado National Guard.

Tasha Seiter, MS, MFTC

Covid-19 cases are continuing to increase in many parts of the U.S. including in Colorado (according to Governor Polis). In these unprecedented times, as a therapist, I am observing a surge in people contacting my office to address their mental health. In fact, during this pandemic, the World Health Organization reported an increase in seeking mental health services in 93% of countries worldwide.

Pre-pandemic there has been a silent stigma against a person seeking therapy — the fallacy has been that a strong person solves their own problems. Some still believe that only “broken” people seek therapy. But even after things go back to “normal” Covid-19 could permanently change the way our society views therapy as:

1) In 2020, therapy is becoming more “the norm.”

Covid-19 has created a myriad of stressors including concerns about health, employment, childcare, social isolation, and the loss of usual sources of enjoyment. It is clear why more people are seeking mental health services at this time. A review of scientific literature on mental health and Covid-19 (Rajkumar, 2020) found that developing anxiety and depressive symptoms was a “common response” to this pandemic, with 16–28% of the sample reporting symptoms. Anyone seeing a therapist right now is breaking the stigma around therapy, helping to make seeking therapy more commonplace.

And when people share with their friends that they are addressing their mental health issues, they are sharing the message: “It’s okay to speak with a professional — I do.”

2) We are all far more vulnerable to and with each other — for example:

Pre-Covid-19 we asked a polite question: “How are you?” and often heard: “I’m fine. How are you?”

Since Covid-19, more often, we now ask: “How are you?” because now we are paying closer attention to the answer. In recent months, we might hear in response: “Honestly, I’ve been feeling so lonely and overwhelmed. You too?”

Covid-19 has been hard on everyone. Many of us are experiencing fear, loss, and uncertainty. And because we are more aware of the fact that many people are struggling right now, there is an unprecedented level of sharing our emotions and life struggles. Breaking the stigma around vulnerability creates a greater societal acknowledgment that you can seek to work through your deeper feelings with a therapist without seeming “weak.”

3) For months now, life has been hard on all of us.

Vulnerability is being de-stigmatized and people are opening up more. And as people are quick to talk about their true feelings, we are finally understanding that we all struggle in life. Nowadays, we are more in touch with our shared humanity.

Covid-19 has produced some devastating developments. The good news is that therapy can help us deal with our current reality. And research suggests that online therapy, the norm during Covid-19, is often even more effective than in-person therapy (Wagner, Horn, & Maercker, 2014). Taking care of your mental health means you are advocating for a support system that can help improve the lives of others as well.

Tasha Seiter, MS, AMFT, practices online therapy for couples, families, and individuals throughout Colorado. She is currently a Ph.D. Candidate at Colorado State University and can be reached at natasha.seiter@colostate.edu or visit her website at http://TashaSeiterTherapy.com/