Mental Health is having a real moment right now. More than just 15 seconds of fame, mental health is on everyone’s lips. Brands, celebrities, influencers even the most famous cat on social media appeared to be depressed. It seems there is a mental health story or message wherever you look, but how much of what you see or hear is the truth? In this post, I will be covering the 20 most common mental health myths that are out there and why you should ignore them.
Mental Illness is a myth. This was the title of a book published by Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist and author, in 1961. This may have been the beginning of some of the biggest myths and beliefs that are held by many regarding our mental health today. This along with 20 other common myths have proven detrimental to the way society has viewed mental health for the past 5 decades and more importantly to the way we approach mental health as a collective. By exposing these myths I hope to provide the truth about mental health and give you the tools you need to better understand your own mental health and the mental health of those around you.
Myth #1- Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems
Fact: Mental health problems have nothing to do with being lazy or weak and many people need help to get better. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:
genes, physical illness, injury, or brain chemistry. Life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse. Family history of mental health problems
People with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely.
Myth #2 – People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable
Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of society.
Myth #3 – I can’t do anything for a person with a mental health problem
Fact: Friends and loved ones can make a big difference. Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. Friends and family can be important influences to help someone get the treatment and services they need.
Myth #4 – Therapy and self-help are a waste of time. Why bother when you can just take a pill?
Treatment for mental health problems varies depending on the individual and could include medication, therapy, or both. Many individuals work with a support system during the healing and recovery process.
Myth #5 – Seeking help for mental illness will lead to being locked up in a psychiatric hospital
Fact: There are varying degrees of mental illness, and only in very rare cases will people need to be hospitalised or admitted to an institution of any kind. Most cases of mental illness can be treated with a combination of therapy, change in diet and exercise and medication.
Myth #6 – There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover
Fact: Studies show that people with mental health problems get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.
Myth #7 – Prevention doesn’t work. It’s impossible to prevent mental illnesses
Fact: Prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioural disorders focuses on addressing known risk factors such as exposure to trauma that can affect the chances that children, youth, and young adults will develop mental health problems.
Myth #8 – Anxiety disorders are very rare.
Anxiety disorders are actually extremely common. Nearly 20 percent of adults will experience an anxiety disorder every year. Anxiety disorders typically begin during one’s teen years but it may take many years to get diagnosed. Anxiety disorders comprise a wide variety of conditions, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, social anxiety disorder, and phobias. Since anxiety disorders may be highly specific or make people avoid going out into public, it’s easy to underestimate the number of people with anxiety disorders.
Myth #9 – Some people are just neurotic and can’t be treated
There’s a stereotype of a neurotic person who is perhaps a hypochondriac, perhaps suffers from OCD, or is just acutely aware of the danger inherent in every situation. It seems like such a person can’t really be helped. However, most people with anxiety disorders can be treated effectively and will see improvements very quickly. Learning new cognitive strategies for dealing with anxiety and being willing to push the limits of your comfort zone through exposure therapy are the most important tools.
Myth #10 – Anxiety is not a real illness
Some anxiety can be helpful. We might experience it before exams, presentations, or during job interviews. It can also motivate us. When anxiety levels begin to escalate and become a constant factor in our lives, then e can develop an anxiety disorder. Not only can anxiety cause behavioural and psychological symptoms, but it can also produce physical symptoms. These include stomach problems, dizziness, chills, increased heartbeat, chest pain, trouble breathing, headaches, muscle tension, and insomnia.
Myth #11 – Real anxiety is having panic attacks
A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, people often feel they are losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
Panic attacks can be part of anxiety, but not always. It’s estimated that 6.8% of adults will experience panic attacks that are frequent enough to meet the criteria for panic disorder.
There are many anxiety disorders, including generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). A person living with any of these disorders may or may not experience a panic attack.
Statistics show that about 35–50% of adults will experience at least one panic attack in their lifetime. But this does not mean they are living with an anxiety disorder.
Myth #12 – Social anxiety is the same as being shy
While many people with social anxiety disorder are shy, shyness is not a prerequisite for social anxiety disorder. It can seem similar. However, having social anxiety and being shy are very different.
Shyness and introversion are personality traits. People with these traits may have difficulty talking to people they don’t know or value their time away from others. However, they do not experience the excessive, persistent anxiety and discomfort associated with social anxiety.
In contrast, social anxiety disorder is a mental illness affecting 3% of the population. People can experience a significant amount of fear, embarrassment or humiliation in social performance-based situations, to the point where the person avoids the situations entirely or endures them with a high level of distress.
Myth #13 – Anxiety will cause damage to the body
Fact: While anxiety manifests into physical symptoms, these will fade.
Anxiety can have intense physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, rapid breathing and tightness in the chest area. These symptoms are often mistaken for a heart problem, although it is always important to check this out via a medical examination. Research shows that most anxiety attacks last about 20-30 minutes before physical symptoms begin to fade: our bodies simply cannot sustain intense levels of physical arousal for long periods of time, the flight or fight system is a short, sharp arousal to get us quickly out of danger, it will then tail off and we start to feel tired.
Myth #14 – Depression is all in your head
Depression is a psychological, social, and biological disorder. It’s chronic and takes treatment to manage. Someone who is depressed can’t just shut it off or “suck it up.” The general public only sees the emotional side of depression, like acting out or not acting like yourself. If we took time to realize that depression is a condition that causes physical issues as well, maybe we would see that depression is a real disease that takes time and treatment to manage.
Myth #15 – Medication is the only way to manage depression
Medication is only one type of depression treatment. Therapy is another option, and research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is especially effective in helping people with depression. While the combination of antidepressant medication and CBT are most effective in treating depression, research shows that many people have achieved a full recovery from depression and recurring depression following CBT, as it gives them the tools they need to manage their mood in the long run.
Myth #16 – If you have a family member with depression, you will have it, too
While there is a genetic component in depression, research shows it’s slight. Of people who have a relative who deals with depression, only 10 to 15 % will also develop depression. Those who have family members with depression may have a better understanding of the signs and might be more sensitive to changes in their own behaviour and emotions.
Myth #17 – People with mental health needs, even those who are managing their mental illness, cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job
Fact: People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees.
Myth #18 – Depression is the same as being sad
While sadness or feeling low is typical of depression, feeling sad does not indicate that someone is depressed. Depression is more complicated than merely feeling sad, and when a diagnosis is made for depression, telling someone to cheer up it will never happen is not particularly helpful.
Myth #19 – Children don’t experience mental health problems
Fact: Even very young children may show early warning signs of mental health concerns. These mental health problems are often clinically diagnosable and can be a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors.
Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs.
Myth #20 – Mental health problems don’t affect me
Fact: Mental health problems are actually very common.
In 2014, about:
* one in five adults experienced a mental health issue.
* One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression.
* One in 25 people lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the world.
If you have questions about your own mental health or someone close to you, drop me an email and I will be happy to provide some guidance. If you are interested in finding out more about mental health in general or even pursuing a career in mental health, then check out your national healthcare website for more information.