The effects of the coronavirus pandemic combined with the growing racial justice movement, rising unemployment, and unstable economy means that the mental health crisis experts predicted as a result of the pandemic is here. As early as March 2020, a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 45% of adults say the coronavirus pandemic has affected their mental health and 19% say it has had a “major impact.”
And yet, with so much going on and the ability to observe the experiences and suffering of others via social media, some of us feel that we don’t “deserve” mental health treatment, even though we might be in pain ourselves.
The feeling that you’re not suffering enough to deserve mental health treatment or seek the support of a therapist—what we’ve started to call mental health impostor syndrome—is real. Impostor syndrome is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. People with impostor syndrome (which is a phenomenon or experience rather than a diagnosis) suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence despite success or external proof of their competence.
People with mental health impostor syndrome may feel that they don’t deserve care, despite evidence that they might benefit from therapy. If you’ve ever thought, “I’m sad, but I’m not sad enough to see a therapist,” or “I’m in pain, but other people have it worse than I do,” or “Everybody gets anxious; why do I think that I deserve help?” you might have mental health impostor syndrome.
I’ve always felt this way, very often discounting my own experiences, thoughts, and feelings because I think that I’m not suffering enough in comparison to others or even as much as I did in more traumatic times in my life.
In recent months, my sense of mental health impostor syndrome has only increased. When I feel anxious or sad or find my mental health struggles expressing themselves as physical symptoms, such as pain or the inability to sleep, I start to tell myself things like, “At least you have a home, you’re healthy, you aren’t suffering financially, you aren’t the victim of racial injustice, you aren’t an essential worker,” and on and on, a constant stream of reasons I should ignore my mental health and just put up with it.
Everybody should get the mental health care they need, but when you have mental health impostor syndrome, you might refuse to consider getting support or deny yourself access completely. Here are some of the ways people with mental health impostor syndrome block themselves from receiving care and ways you can reframe your thinking and get the support you need.
It’s a common misconception that you need to be in crisis to seek mental health treatment.
Often, therapy is a powerful preventative tool that can help you gain greater self-awareness and develop coping strategies for the future. Just because you’re not in pain at the moment (or you are, but you don’t think it’s “bad” enough), doesn’t mean that you can’t take steps to work on preventative care.
Not everyone who seeks mental health treatment will end up taking medication and there is no set path or collection of symptoms that all people share. If we don’t feel “sick” or “broken,” we might not think we would benefit from therapy, but you’re not broken and therapy isn’t about curing or fixing you—it’s about finding self-awareness, developing coping mechanisms to help you through life’s ups and down, and providing support to help you develop strength and resilience.
Especially when we’re successful professionally, we might take it as a sign that everything is great. In the past, I’ve used my drive for productivity and personal and professional success as an excuse to ignore quite serious physical pain and I’ve relied on substances to cope with stress. Things like needing alcohol to relax or losing out on sleep to work or pushing through illness in order to be productive are normalized (and often rewarded). This disconnect makes it hard to come to terms with the fact that everything is not fine and some support might be needed.
One consistent line of thinking in people who have mental health impostor syndrome is that they don’t deserve treatment because everybody is suffering and others have it worse.
There are plenty of reasons we might try to minimize our level of suffering. Maybe social stigma makes it difficult to talk about mental health with our friends and family. Maybe we feel the need to appear like we have it together. Maybe we’re afraid that revealing that we’re struggling with our mental health will make us seem weak or incompetent. But going to therapy does not make you weak and we should stop normalizing both the idea that everybody needs to seem like they have it together at all times and the idea that powering through mental health symptoms is better than seeking support.
Life is messy and complicated. While humans share common emotions, the impact of certain situations differs from person to person. We all experience and react to pain, grief, loss, sadness, anxiety, and other events and emotions differently. There is not one way of dealing or feeling that is more valid than another.
If you are still feeling mental health impostor syndrome, take some time to research your options. Think about how you’re feeling and write down the emotions you’ve had or experiences that are weighing on your mind.
Read about how to tell if you might benefit from therapy or what to expect in your first session.
Look into different types of treatment, such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, Emotionally-Focused Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or Psychoanalysis to see if any resonate with you.
When you’re ready, you can use a service like ours that matches you with a therapist and you can use the complimentary phone consultation most therapists—and all of the therapists in the MyWellbeing community—provide to make sure that you and your therapist are a good fit.
Everyone deserves to get mental health support. By realizing that your pain is valid, changing the scripts you use to keep your defenses up, understanding that high function in one area doesn’t mean you don’t need support, and embracing your unique needs, you can work through your mental health impostor syndrome and find care and support.
Caitlin is MyWellbeing's Content Lead, a writer, speaker, communication coach, and the founder of Commcoterie, a communication consultancy. She teaches teams how to use professional coaching communication techniques in their everyday conversations, helps leaders engage their teams with effective and inclusive communication, and partners with service providers to activate their programs and offerings with their own clients through inspiring communication strategies. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.
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