Editor's note: This is the fourth installment in this school year's series to give local teens a voice in media.

The night before my first appointment, I sat back on my bed and tried to keep up with racing thoughts and feelings of nervousness and fear.

Would tomorrow bring any solutions to my problems? Or would I find only more disappointment? What would my friends think? And yet, even with these dark musings clouding my reasoning, another emotion, one that I hadn’t felt for quite some time, was starting to make its presence known in my mind: Hope.

The next day, I would be joining the 24 percent of youth in the U.S. who seek out therapy.

Unfortunately, seeking help for mental health issues is often stigmatized and seen in a negative light, prohibiting many young people from getting the support they need.

In an article titled "The Stigma of Therapy" from Psychology Today, Dana Gionta says a major misconception about people who go to therapy is that they are “crazy.” That stereotype is far from true. The reality is that most people who reach out for mental health support are often dealing with difficult but basic life events. For example:

* Family issues

* End of romantic relationships or friendships

* Health challenges

* Decision-making challenges

* Relocation

* Work or school stress

Many of us will experience these situations in life. Nonetheless, reaching out for help is seen by some as a negative, and a scary unknown by those brave enough to admit they need support.

Gionta noted common concerns many people associate with therapy:

* What really happens in that room?

* Will I still be myself when I leave?

* If I go to a therapist, does that mean I’m crazy?

* What will others think?

One Lincoln Southeast High School student, who has been seeing a therapist regularly for six months, shared that she was seeking help to understand the array of emotions she deals with daily: “I was just having really bad anxiety, and it was less than ideal because I would start crying in class. I even had to leave class sometimes.”

A University of California at Los Angeles survey details the simple healing powers of communication that people often experience in therapy: “Putting our feelings into words, talking to a therapist or friend and even writing in a journal helps us to feel better.”

Little did I know, these words would help me with being more open with my close friends and family.

Before I started seeing a therapist, I was having anxious feelings that I couldn’t release, often times at night. This would continue for three to five days in a row, then go away, but reappear a few months later. Each time, I would share my feelings with my parents in the hope things would improve.

But, after a year of this cycle I realized it wasn’t going away, and I needed to talk to someone with expertise. I viewed this much like a physical illness that wasn’t getting better; I was tired of these feelings and wanted help. Moreover, I wasn’t ashamed because it is human nature to get help if you are not feeling OK. I think one reason I wasn’t embarrassed was that I know so many people who have gone to therapy and who are amazing in so many ways.

Another Southeast student I know has experienced anxiety since she was 9 and, at times, would beg her parents to stay home from school. As she got older, the anxiety progressed, so she and her parents decided she should see a therapist. “I was really open about going to therapy. I was really excited to finally get to figure out what was happening with me. I felt really uncontrollable.”

Students today live in a world of unrealistic perfectionism that often sets them up for failure. More than ever, young people are feeling stressors from rigorous academic expectations, current social issues, family struggles or even just fitting in.

I believe – and have experienced the reality – that therapy has a positive impact on helping those with mental health and mental illness.

Yet the wall of stigma often prevents people from getting help. My friends and I have been open and honest when we struggled with problems in our lives, instead of sweeping them under the rug like older generations have often done.

I believe our generation will do so much to help our society get over the stigma of reaching out to get needed help.

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Maggie Stoltenberg is a senior at Lincoln Southeast High School.



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