Following a major life event when I was 12 years old, my mother asked me if I wanted to go to therapy. Even at that age, I understood the negative connotations behind "going to therapy." It would make me seem weak, like I couldn't handle it on my own, like I needed help. Being the "strong and independent" teenager I thought I was, I declined.

Fast forward another 12 years and I've considered going to therapy multiple times — but still haven't had the courage. My arguments range from "I don't have the time," to "I don't have the money," to "the gym is my version of therapy," to "I don't want to pay someone to pretend to be my friend." But each of these excuses are part of a much bigger issue, and that is the stigma around therapy — and mental health in general.

According to one source, "Approximately one in five adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5 percent—experiences mental illness in a given year." When it comes to college students, another source states, "One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness. More than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year."

These numbers speak to the importance of mental health services for college students especially — which is why I've reached out to Spoon University contributors across the country to find out what they wish they knew before going to therapy for the first time, and the responses were inspiring.

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“Before going, I wish I knew that it's not uncommon. More Americans are regularly involved in therapy than you think and just because you want someone to unconditionally listen and help you through a rough time doesn't mean you are crazy.”

– Student at Florida State University

“I wish I knew that the first therapist might not be the right fit, and that is okay. I remember being so nervous that the therapist wouldn't like me and blamed it not clicking on myself, but fit is so important and so individualized. Also, it is so critical to be completely honest and open (obviously, but it's so hard to do). Therapy is really a judgment-free zone, and you get out what you put in, so it's a waste of time and money to lie or put on an act.”

– Student at Georgetown University

"I wish I knew it's okay to not stick with the first person you talk to. It's okay to look around and find someone you feel comfortable with instead of talking with someone you don't mesh well with. I also wish someone had explained to me early on all the different types of therapy there are. I didn't know the difference between a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a counselor etc."

– Previous Student at Pace University

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“I was diagnosed with general anxiety disorder when I was six (I'm 20 now). I've gone through multiple rounds of therapy, some were helpful and some weren't. I have found that therapy can only be successful depending on how much you put into it and how open you are to change. When I was growing up, anxiety was a huge part of my life and I felt that if I went through therapy, I would change who I was because it wouldn't be a part of me anymore (if that makes sense). I was so wrong! Going through therapy does not eliminate anxiety completely, only can teach you how to cope.

I wish I knew that — [it] would have saved me the time and frustration of going to over a dozen therapists and retelling my life and anxiety issues over and over again. I absolutely hate how therapy has such a stigma — it's basically just venting to a friend (which we all do) but this friend has a degree, and you don't go to bars together on the weekend hah. I think everyone could benefit but a lot of people aren't open to it.”

– Student at Western University

"I wish I knew how therapy would affect me after the fact. Sometimes going that deep hurts you before it finally it helps you, but it's worth it in the long run. It ended up being a positive experience because ultimately it helped me, and I think that anything that helps, however much, is beneficial. I’m glad I went because once you're in a place where you need help, it's hard to remember what it was like before that. And therapy helped me get back to that."

– Student at Hobart William Smith College

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"That you may not like your first therapist and that's okay. It's kinda like dating — sometimes it just isn't a fit. You have to find someone you trust and like to get anywhere with it. Because some people, like, get bad vibes from therapy but sometimes it's just not the right therapist. Also, people should know that if you can't afford therapy, sometimes you can find places that charge on sliding scales based on income. Often by PhD students who are training."

– Previous Student at NYU & Columbia

"The things I wish I knew are: 1. Seeking therapy doesn't mean a person is weak, ever. Asking for a helping hand can totally be the bravest thing a person can do. 2. A therapist can't single-handedly fix things for you — they're not a mental health genie. It's a dynamic relationship, and you have to WANT to get 'better' and have to actively choose that every day. They're there to give you a tool kit and teach you how to use those tools, in the hopes that one day you'll know that tool kit well enough to be able to easily carry it around in the world alone and with confidence."

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Going to therapy doesn't have to be scary, or demeaning, or a chore. No matter if you've been putting it off for 12 years, or if you've just recently starting considering it, therapy can be a huge and important step to bettering your own mental health — and life in general.

A special thank you to every student for participating in the making of this article, for continuing to help break the stigmas, and for inspiring all those who aren't yet as brave (but are working on it).