Most people who walk into my therapy office tell me that they had thought about getting help for years. But, they were afraid to reach out to a therapist.

And that’s understandable. There are a lot of misconceptions about mental health, and not enough people are talking about it.

While the stigma surrounding mental health issues is starting to slowly go away, we have a long way to go before mental health is treated like physical health.

Here are five things therapists wish everyone knew about mental health:

1. Mental health is a continuum.

People don’t talk about physical health in broad terms like they do mental health. For example, no one would say, “She’s physically ill,” when describing someone who might have anything from seasonal allergies to a terminal diagnosis. That wouldn’t make sense.

But that’s what often happens with mental illness. People say things like, “My neighbor is mentally ill,” when describing a variety of behaviors (quite often it’s used in a derogatory fashion).

Many people also talk about mental health in an all-or-nothing fashion. They say things like, “I’ve never had a mental health problem.”

But the truth is, your mental health changes every day. Think of it more like a continuum, and on any given day, you might fall in a different spot on the continuum depending on what’s going on in your life. And everyone experiences mental health issues to some degree.

2. Anyone can develop a mental illness.

Many people believe they should be immune to mental illness. They think they’re too smart, too well-educated, have too much money, or too few problems to experience depression, anxiety, or some other mental illness.

But the truth is, anyone can develop a mental health problem at any age. And while you can control some of the factors that influence your mental health--like taking care of yourself--you can’t control genetics, and you can’t prevent some of the life experiences that may trigger a mental health issue.

3. Mental strength is different than mental health.

Some people view mental illness as weakness. But, there’s a big difference between mental strength and mental health.

It’s similar to the way physical strength and physical health are different. Lifting weights helps you become stronger, and working out may prevent some physical illnesses. But big muscles don’t guarantee you won’t get cancer or have a heart attack.

Mental muscle is similar. Developing mental strength can help you stay healthy, and it can prevent some mental illnesses. But it doesn’t make you permanently immune to an anxiety or bipolar disorder.

4. There are many ways to get help.

Sometimes people avoid asking for help, because they’re afraid they’ll have to take medication, or they worry a therapist will force them to talk about their childhoods.

But ultimately, you’re in control of your treatment.

You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. You don’t have to take medication, even if it’s suggested by a physician.

If you and your therapist aren’t a good match, you can get a new therapist.

You can even try online therapy if you don’t want to go to a therapist’s office. Most online therapists allow you to remain anonymous, and you can connect with a mental health provider at your convenience via message, live chat, or video sessions.

5. Mental illnesses are treatable.

If you’re experiencing a mental health issue, there’s a good chance you’ve been trying to manage your symptoms on your own. Perhaps you’re even self-medicating with some unhealthy habits, like eating too much, drinking, using drugs, or even binge watching Netflix to escape reality.

But there are more effective ways to manage mental health problemsMental illnesses are very treatable. Treatment recommendations often include medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both.

How to Find Help When You Want It

If you think you might want to talk to someone about an issue in your life--whether you’re having a relationship problem or you’re struggling to manage stress--you might start by talking to your physician. Your doctor can help you find a therapist.

You can also find a therapist on your own. A quick online search will help you find a local therapist. Some of them may offer free phone consultations where they can answer any questions you might have.

If you decide to go the online therapy route, most sites will match you with a therapist within a few hours, so you can start talking to someone about your concerns.

Published on: Oct 8, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.