Think Again: Busting some mental health myths
A very important aim of Mental Health Awareness Month is to educate and share information about mental health with the goal of reducing the stigma and discrimination that people with mental illnesses are often subjected to. It’s up to us as a community to educate ourselves and others and to always make the effort to set the record straight. Let’s bust some common misconceptions about mental health!
MYTH: Mental illnesses aren’t “real” illnesses and are very uncommon.
Because talking about mental health and illness is rare, some tend to think that mental health problems are rare too – and some think they don’t even exist. The way that we talk about mental health and illness has changed a lot over the years. What hasn’t changed is that mental illness can disrupt a person’s life in the same way as a physical health condition and is not simply about life’s ups and downs. Mental illnesses cause distress, do not go away on their own, and are real health problems that have prescribed and effective treatments. And they’re a lot more common than we’d like to believe. Our World in Data estimated that 970 million people worldwide were dealing with a mental health or substance use disorder in 2018. More recently, we’re seeing these numbers rise due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
MYTH: All people with mental illnesses are “crazy”.
Mental health, just like physical health, exists on a spectrum. There are very different ways that mental health and illness can present that differs from individual to individual. Terms like “crazy” or “insane” are hurtful words that feed into traditional stereotypes of mental illness. They perpetuate the idea that mental illness is wild, uncontrollable and always severe. A common misperception along these lines is that “crazy” means dangerous and violent. While it is true that some people with mental illness can become violent and unpredictable, the causes of violence are complicated. In fact, if we consider mental illness on its own, people who experience a mental illness are no more violent than a person without a mental illness. It is also important to note that a person with a mental illness is far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator due to the stigma associated with mental illness that leads to exclusion and discrimination.
MYTH: People with mental illness cannot function in society.
While episodes of mental illness do present additional hurdles and can be crippling for periods of time, people with mental illnesses are very capable of being productive members of society when they take care of their mental health condition and adhere to treatment programs.
MYTH: You cannot get better if you have a mental illness.
People often think of a mental illness diagnosis as “the end” when in actual fact it is in many ways “the beginning” for an individual. There are many different kinds of treatments, services, and supports that can help a person manage their mental health condition. Even if a person has a chronic mental health condition that requires long term treatment, when they learn to manage their symptoms and adhere to their treatment they can lead productive, engaged lives.
MYTH: People who have a mental illness are weak and can’t handle stress.
This is just as untrue as saying a broken arm is a sign of weakness. Mental health disorders are not signs of poor character. We don’t blame someone when they need a cast or help in their daily life when they recover from a broken bone, and we should have the same approach to mental illness. When it comes to stress, people who experience mental health disorders are sometimes actually better at managing stress than those who haven’t because of the skills like stress management and problem solving that they learn during the course of treatment.
MYTH: Mental health care is only for people with severe problems.
Everyone has mental health, even if you don’t have a diagnosable mental health condition, and so everyone should be mindful of managing it. For those who do have diagnosed mental illnesses, treatment from registered professionals is imperative and should not be substituted. But if what you’re dealing with are daily stressors or mental health issues that are on the milder end of the spectrum, you can still benefit from mental health support and therapy is not the only way we can support our mental health. Self-care apps are great “do it yourself” tools for learning effective strategies at your own pace. These cannot replace therapy but are a useful starting point for those who might not need or aren’t ready yet to meet with a professional. Maintaining healthy lifestyle habits is also important in managing your mental health. Consistent sleep patterns, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and socialising with people you care about have all been shown to be important factors in maintaining good mental health.
MYTH: Only people without friends need therapists.
There is a very big difference between talking with friends and structured talk therapy. Both help people manage their mental health but in very different ways. A trained professional can address issues in a constructive way that leads to understanding that even the best of friends can’t. Therapy is confidential, objective, and entirely focused on the individual, which is generally not possible in more informal chats with untrained friends.
It’s important that we are aware that there are a lot more myths out there about mental health so we need to be intentional about sorting through the information we’re exposed to – just like we’re selective of where we get our news. Don’t assume that all websites contain helpful information. If you have any doubts, look elsewhere. And always keep in mind that your best source of information is professionals and they are always willing to answer your questions. Ask away and encourage others to do the same.
A reminder that this Sunday the 10th of October is World Mental Health Day and we’ll be moving for mental health! Join us in wearing something green and walking/running/skipping/swimming/jumping 5km to show support and raise awareness for mental health. Make sure to take a selfie and share it with us.