I think we grossly underestimate the power of human connection in terms of our mental health. And working in mental health for my entire life, I see the value of these connections as necessary to our evolution. I don’t believe a formal therapy session is always the best choice when it comes to increasing our happiness. Sometimes a meaningful conversation with a friend, colleague or even a stranger can trump a mental health professional. While I am a firm believer in my profession, we certainly don’t have all the answers.
I get asked frequently who is the best person to talk to regarding mental health issues. A counselor, coach, doctor or therapist? The short answer is the one who you have the best rapport with. And sometimes the person you have the best rapport with is not a professional. And they too, can bring a world of healing and comfort to you as well. But please keep in mind, ongoing depression and thoughts of harm to self or others will need professional care. But don’t underestimate the power of rapport.
I can recall many years ago when I was a single man working 18 hour shifts, I was heading over to see my mother one Christmas eve. And those who know me, know that I rarely get depressed or anxious. But on this particular eve, for whatever the reason, I was feeling a little low. It was about 4:00 in the afternoon and it was getting dark. I stopped by this drive through coffee stand to get my cup for the half ride that laid before me. There was a young girl in the window who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old. She must have sensed that I was a little off, and with a big smile she just blurted out “It will get better”. It wasn’t the words. It wasn’t the smile. I believe it was her sincerity. That brief exchange changed the trajectory of my whole day. Some 20 years later, I’m sure that young women has no idea what an impact she had on me.
So what is my point? My point is that someone, anyone, who has a vested interest in you can make a difference in your mental health. And many times, those who are not a professional make it so much easier for us. I like to use the analogy that when we are sick, we go to the doctors. And one of the first things they do is take out blood pressure. But did you know that the act of going to the doctors terrifies many people. And the result often shows up in an elevated blood pressure reading. The person we are trusting to make us feel better, can sometimes compound the problem.
We should not underestimate the power of a caring individual
So what is the long game to a mental health gain? Yes, there are times when a professional is not only the best choice for you, but the only choice. However, we should not underestimate the power of a caring individual. It’s not always those with the best education. Nor is it certifications, experience or even age. Sometimes a cup of coffee and a deep conversation will do the trick. Or that unexpected hug or smile. That feeling you get that you matter. Not because you’re paying a professional. But because someone thinks the world is a better place with you in.
I love my profession and I am very proud of it. But I will never underestimate the power of connection.