Hanna Brinnier, New York Licensed social worker and therapist
Tell me a little bit about yourself/your role as a mental health advocate?
My name is Hanna, and I am a therapist working primarily with children and adolescents in New York State. Even before I became a mental health professional, since I was in high school, I was always an advocate in the sense of trying to break the stigma behind going to therapy. I have always been a huge believer in the fact that we all need therapy, so much that I even used to write songs about it- as I am a musician. When I was in college, I worked with the campus counseling center to organize and host a series of mental health awareness events called Be Kind to Your Mind. These events happened throughout my semesters on campus. We had a lot of students, professors, and counselors come to offer support. We presented educational material, as well as vulnerable, raw stories from students who were brave to share their experiences living with a mental illness or being in therapy. We also did live improv addressing different mental health and substance use issues. Additionally, I blogged about my experiences and struggles as a teenager and college student. My goal as both a therapist and mental health advocate is to emphasize that people are not alone in their struggles, and I dedicate my work to help break the stigma surrounding mental health issues
Why is therapy a good option for coping with mental health?
I think in general, a lot of people ask “ why would I go to a therapist and get advice when I can get advice from a friend?” What I would say to that is: If your therapist is giving you advice consistently, I would air on the side of caution! A therapist’s job is not to give advice. Yes, we seldom give advice in certain situations, but the goal of therapy is to work together to help our clients figure out the solutions, which typically they come up with themselves.
As far as why therapy is beneficial, I could write a whole novel! Overall, it helps you release your emotions and better be in tune with how you’re experiencing them within your body. It provides insight and helps you come to understand more of who you are and how you see the world. In therapy, all feelings are allowed, and I’d say one of the greatest benefits is simply validation. Of course, coping skills and relaxation skills are also taught. As a client, if you put the work in (because therapy is relational and collaborative), you will get something out of it!
Why are there so many stigmas against therapy?
There are still a lot of stigmas around therapy and sharing mental health struggles today, and it’s deeply concerning. Over time, I have found that a lot of people think “oh If you go to therapy then you have a serious mental illness”, and that's simply not true. Maybe you do have a mental illness that you are suffering from, but maybe you also go to therapy because you just need someone to vent to and listen to you. Going to therapy doesn’t mean you are seriously ill and need to be hospitalized, a lot of times I think this stigmatism just comes from a lack of knowledge about what therapy is. If you're struggling, if you're feeling sick mentally and emotionally that's what therapists are there for, and that is one of the things I'm super passionate about as both a clinician and a mental health advocate is trying to share the truth of therapy and break that stigma. I truly do believe from the bottom of my heart that everyone could benefit from therapy. That doesn't mean that everyone needs therapy, but everyone can certainly benefit from its purposes.
How do we as a community work down to break down these stigmas?
I've found being vulnerable and sharing is one of the best ways to break down these barriers. This involves being vulnerable with yourself, and others. Share your story. Share your experiences. It is one thing for professionals to say positive things about therapy and how important it is to take care of mental health. That’s expected from us professionals. However, what’s more helpfull is when someone is able to honestly share their struggles. This creates a connection. People thrive off of connections and crave understanding. Having the ability to be vulnerable is a very powerful tool, and I’d even argue to say that it can save lives.
What would you suggest to a teen who wants to go to therapy, but can't afford it, or doesn't want to ask their parents?
First, I want to normalize that this is something that we see often and actually address in school! Unfortunately, therapy can be expensive, and a lot of therapists don't take insurance so that makes it more difficult to gain access to this resource. If you find yourself in this position where you want to go to therapy but have a barrier of finances, or, if you don’t want to disclose this to your parents, I recommend talking to a school counselor/social worker. This is a great resource for students. If you do have insurance, you can try to find one under your insurance. Sometimes therapists will also offer sliding scale fees if money is making it difficult to receive treatment. I encourage you to not get discouraged, as a lot of times it can be difficult to find a therapist right away that is a good fit financially and emotionally.
Why is there such a drastic difference in the ratio of boys and girls in therapy?
Statistically, there are higher rates of male suicides than female. I believe this is due in part to the stigma and expectation that men have to be tough and can't cry. There are societal roles. Because of this, boys are more likely to feel ashamed when they are feeling deeply, and therefore won't feel comfortable getting help. Furthermore, stereotypically, women are perceived to be more emotional and dramatic. Society has set these expectations and it’s hard to work around them. At the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that no gender, person, or position you are in makes you exempt from mental struggles, and I believe this 100% needs to be more talked about.
Any last general advice for teens struggling with mental health?
It may sound cliche, and yet it’s important- You are not alone! One thing I always tell clients is that feelings are not always factual. You may feel unloved, but that doesn't mean you're actually unloved. Also, please know that it's okay not to be okay. Sometimes we set high expectations for ourselves and feel ashamed that we are struggling, and I want to encourage you that it's okay to struggle. We are all human, with complex emotions and behaviors. Please be kinder to yourself, as you would to a friend or a family member who is struggling. :)