Dear Therapist:

I recently went out with a boy who disclosed on the 3rd date that he was seeing a therapist for depression. He said he had struggled on an off with depression since he was a teen and had sometimes taken medication for it. It turned out that the...[match]...didn’t work out for other reasons, but I was really confused as to how to deal with that information. I liked him and he seemed like a perfectly normal boy, which in a way made it more confusing. My question is, provided you don’t think that someone disclosing this kind of information is in and of itself a reason to call off a...[match]...what should be the proper approach when receiving this information? How does someone know if this is a problem that will negatively impact a marriage or that it is something that is under control? What should the proper...[effort]...entail when receiving this kind of information?  

Thank you in advance for clarifying this issue which I am sure comes up these days.  

 

Response:

As you say, this issue comes up these days. There are, however, various reasons that people seek therapy for issues like depression. There are also a number of reasons that discussions about mental health are no longer limited to mental health professionals.

The fact is that people have always dealt with feelings of depression, anxiety and other issues. The very fact that—until relatively recently—these were not publicly discussed was probably the primary reason that few people sought help. Now that the stigma has been somewhat alleviated, seeking help has become much more common.

To some extent, the degree to which people are willing to see a therapist depends on the severity of their symptoms. Often, however, other factors play a strong role in determining which people seek therapy. Open-mindedness, education, understanding, experience, maturity, and other aspects of personality are some of the individual, family, and community qualities that help make the decision to seek therapy easier.

The existence of these qualities can make for the difference between someone who deals with problematic emotions early enough to resolve them and someone who bottles up these emotions—possibly causing them to erupt later on in life. Ironically, it is the former person who winds up with a black mark on their resume.

When considering someone...there are naturally other factors that people may want to identify. These include the severity and duration of symptoms, and how recently they last appeared. Remember that most of us have had symptoms of depression and anxiety. How many of us can truthfully say that we have never felt depressed or anxious? We should never define someone based on one aspect of their life. Certainly the appropriate choice to seek help for a relatively simple (and easily-resolved) issue should not be the basis on which we judge them.

Of course, there’s a difference between “normal” feelings of depression or anxiety and those that rise to the level of diagnosis. Perhaps more importantly, there’s a difference between a diagnosis of depression and symptoms that are debilitating. However, during adolescence many of us have felt our emotions much more strongly than we do later in life. Also, for some people the threshold for choosing to seek help is much lower than for others. While one person may seek therapy when feeling a little blue for a few days, another person may avoid therapy at all costs.

Although we should always do our due diligence in order to protect ourselves, it is also important to recognize the difference between identifying true concerns and simply labelling people based on their past experiences and choices.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

 www.ylcsw.com / 718-258-5317