Breaking the stigma of seeking help for mental health

Everyone faces life challenges, and dealing with them, and seeking support from a professional, either for personal development or psychological assistance, is self-care. To step out of an uncomfortable situation, to understand that it's okay not to feel okay. There…

Ida Protuger



The power of collective thinking

Leaders hold a crucial role in nurturing collective thinking as a resource. Those appreciating the value of experience and knowledge in each team member foster a safe space for exchanging ideas. They see the synergy from combined resources as valuable input toward better, well-informed, and inclusive decisions.

When your knee hurts, you go to the doctor. So why hesitate to seek help when your soul hurts? Today is World Mental Health Day. The theme for this year is “Mental Health as a Universal Human Right.”

The question is, how can we achieve that?

If someone faces bullying that makes them anxious and disrupts their mental health, they should recognize it and seek help. If someone faces gaslighting or other forms of psychological violence, they should recognize it and seek help. If someone is dealing with depression, they should acknowledge it to seek help.

But sadly, this doesn’t happen often because there is still a fear of stigma when seeking help for mental health.

Hence, my main contribution to this topic this year is to normalize taking care of one’s own mental health. On one occasion, I wrote about a meeting I had last year with two Argentinians on vacation, and I remembered the fact that in that country, the highest number of people seek psychotherapy. I asked if they were aware of this fact, and both of them not only knew but were also actively attending therapy sessions themselves.

Just like we go to a hairdresser for our external appearance, we also take care of our internal well-being, was the comment of one of them.

The  importance of the inner state

I am a psychologist, a life and leadership coach, but also a person who attended psychotherapy. I did not feel ashamed to seek advice when I went through difficult life challenges and overcame them in that way. I also know what a panic attack is, not just because I heard about it from clients, but because I experienced it myself.

My panic attacks started after the birth of my third son, who was born prematurely and spent eight weeks in an incubator. While he was in the hospital, the machines connected to the incubator showed oxygen levels, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature. When I brought him home, there were no sounds of machines anymore, but the silence became terrifying.

Is he okay? Is the temperature normal? How do I check if he has an increased heart rate? One day, in the first month at home, while giving him a few drops of iron supplement, it seemed to me that he was suffocating. I started shaking him; I didn’t know how to check if everything was okay. I panicked and called my husband in tears and screams. He came home immediately, and it turned out that everything that happened was only in my head.

From that moment, when I was alone with my son, I started to experience strong heart palpitations, sweating, and a feeling that I could collapse and die. I started to fear myself; if I panicked again, I might act irrationally and harm him. We called our mothers so I wouldn’t be alone. The attacks started to decrease as my child grew and communicated more.

The last panic attack was eight years ago. Just after moving to Vienna, I had one on the bus. Realizing that I was in an unfamiliar city with a small child, a thought came to me: What if I faint? Someone might steal my child. Yes, I know that these things are simply incredible, but I want to convey exactly what was happening in my head because no matter how senseless they are, our thoughts have significant power over our mental state. Again, heart palpitations, sweating, fear.

I’m not  my thoughts

Our body is designed this way; when faced with fear, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, triggering the stress mechanism. Such a design in human beings in prehistoric times helped prepare the body for fighting or fleeing in the wilderness. Fears in modern humans mostly do not come from wild animals to flee from but from thoughts that don’t scare. However, the mechanism remains the same. Furthermore, if the body state governed by the sympathetic system lasts long, then the cortisol – stress hormone, is released, making us feel unwell.

During my training for personal and organizational development, the topic of panic attacks came up, and the first sentence in the script was: “You don’t die from them.” I learned many techniques to cope, but the most important lesson for me was the realization that “I am not my thoughts.”

We are not our thoughts, although they are a part of us. If we distance ourselves and look at them from the perspective that they are our product, we have the power to control, review, and discard them. The last time a thought of fear triggered my palpitations was on an airplane when there was strong turbulence. I took a few deep breaths, confronted the thought with the counter-question: “What if not…” and put on my headphones, even managed to fall asleep.

It is okay not to feel ok

I am still a psychotherapist because self-reflection was part of our training, a requirement for the license, and it is an obligation to maintain our mental health.

If I don’t see her for some time, I start to miss her provocations and different perspectives because I need them to break out of my thought pattern and look at situations differently. I offer this as a personal development and leadership coach. A different perspective, support, directing thoughts toward resources and solutions

Everyone faces life challenges, and dealing with them, and seeking support from a professional, either for personal development or psychological assistance, is self-care. To step out of an uncomfortable situation, to understand that it’s okay not to feel okay. There are solutions and support out there.

Mental health is as important as physical health. Let’s take care of both.