Myths about Mental Illness

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As a psychologist, I routinely hear many damaging myths about what mental health is and how treatment works. Some hold these myths to be truth, which lead them to suffer alone through deteriorating mental health.

Whether it’s due to everyday life stressors, relationship difficulties, the realities of racism, genetics, or all of the above, mental illness is real. And it requires real conversations to uncover myths and lead people who are suffering to find needed treatment.

All of us can be a part of ending stigma around mental illness. When you hear these statements, have a conversation about the facts:

“I’m weak.”

Mental illness is not a weakness in character. It’s not a reflection of some invisible strength monitor. We all experience a spectrum of emotions, everything from feeling highly emotional about difficult life events, to feeling numb. It might be because of an accumulation of circumstances we’ve experienced in the past, our biological make up or both. It is in fact a show of strength to express your emotions and seek treatment.

“I’m crazy. Something’s wrong with me.”

1 in 5 adults have had a mental health diagnosis (NAMI), and the percentage is likely higher due to people’s fears of sharing their mental health concerns. So it’s the folks who say they’re perfect who have the real problem. Life is hard and we’re human, therefore we react.

“Other people don’t feel like this.”

And how would you know this? We really have no real idea of how other people react. Even the people we’re closest with don’t know how we’re really feeling unless we tell them. So how do we know how others really react to different situations? And how does it help us to compare? And why, especially, do we assume that everyone would react the same way? We’re far too different to behave or feel the same in every situation.

“I have to hide my mental illness.”

Of course, this is your decision. Although if you decide to share with someone you trust, you may find that more people can relate with you than you thought. They or someone they know may suffer from mental illness. Some people may even be supportive and be able to give you some guidance. The reality is, there are people who don’t understand and people who do. It’s important to figure out who your trusted loved ones are.

“Medication will turn me into a zombie.”

All medications have side effects. Everyone reacts differently to each medicine based on body chemistry. Some medications cause some uncomfortable side effects when you first start taking them. The biggest question to ask yourself and your doctor is whether the benefits outweigh the side effects.

“I don’t have enough faith in God. I just need to pray more.”

I know spiritual leaders who suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health difficulties. Does it mean they don’t have enough faith? Prayer can be powerful, however, have you been able to pray away all of the problems in your life? Do you pray rather than seek medical attention for a physical condition?

“Counseling is for white people.”

So only white people have problems? People of color tend to have a unique dynamic of stress specifically related to being people of color. Discrimination is real, people hold strange stereotypes about those who look different from them and people of color are sometimes even victims of hate. Have you ever wondered if you didn’t get a job or a promotion because of your ethnicity? Chronic worries such as these accumulate and the build up can be tremendously stressful.

“My family will be upset if they know I’m sharing our private business.”

Every family has its family business. What you’re sharing isn’t that. What you’re sharing is your business. You’re talking about how life affects you.

“It’s selfish to take care of myself.”

This is a cultural lie in much of the world, especially amongst girls and women. Your creator sees you as a jewel. You deserve to care for yourself and express your desire to have loved ones care for you as well. Also, we can’t help anyone if we’re sick.

“I don’t want to express myself in front of others.”

Everything we do is an opportunity to model behavior to others, especially those we care about the most. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to teach our children or partner that emotional expression is healthy?

“My job will find out I’m talking to a therapist.”

Does your employer know you went to the dentist last month or that you just got a refill for blood pressure medication? Therapy is highly confidential and there are very few reasons this information would need to be revealed. The first couple of sessions of treatment are usually spent reviewing how confidentiality works so that you’re very clear on how it all works.

“Asking people if they are thinking about suicide will cause them to feel suicidal.”

Simply asking this question does not cause someone to become suicidal. Either the intention is already there or it isn’t. In fact, asking about it may open up conversation and potentially save someone’s life. The National Suicide Prevention is a 24-hour hotline for anyone who needs to talk: 800-273-8255.

 

We can end the stigma of mental illness together. Please reach out to me if with questions or would like me to speak about mental health in your community.

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What’s Your Story?

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One of the most powerful ways we can undo injustice is by sharing our stories. I share some of my stories of race, immigration and perceptions of American life through the lens of a woman of color in Essays of Night and Daylight.

Something important changes as we hear others’ stories. We hear threads of similarity. We hear joy, pain, struggle and strength. We hear ourselves.

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-02 at 1.33.51 AMEssays of Night and Daylight
Perspective on race, immigration and American life through the lens of a woman of color.
$5.00

 

Purchase here:
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Thank you for reading!

I am Jane Doe

MV5BZjllZGIyNTctODNhYS00MGVhLWEwMTgtYTUwOWUzNWVjMjAzL2ltYWdlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQ0MDY1MQ@@._V1_UY268_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgA mother talks about the dread she felt while hoping to hear that her missing daughter was alive. In another account, a mother shares her disgust at seeing nude pictures of her underage daughter on the Internet and pleading with those who published it to take it down. I am Jane Doe (2017) is a documentary that exposes how rampant sex trade crimes are in the United States. It also brings to light that many people in power are aware of it but look the other way because they have a hand in this lucrative “business.” In I am Jane Doe, parents, attorneys and other advocates fight a financially thriving web-based company to try to stop print and online advertising of underaged children for prostitution.

There is an elaborate worldwide system in which people have one goal – to move children and young people around like cargo in order to sell them into prostitution. Children are kidnapped and become yet another name on a missing persons list. Once they are taken and transported far from everything they know, they’re threatened to keep their mouths shut, or else. And yes, this problem is happening in developed countries as well, all the time, which is why it’s important for us to stay informed.

In the book, The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking, Mary Frances Bowley informs readers about the lives of young people who have been trafficked and ways they can be supported. She has also created The White Umbrella Campaign to support those who have been trafficked throughout the United States.

Although it’s an intricate operation happening under high secrecy, sex trafficking is happening all around us. A survivor of sex trafficking could be anyone around us, quietly seeking help, reaching out in ways we may not understand right away. The more we know, the more we can help.

 

How Do We See “Those People Over There?”

IMG_3296How do we care for ourselves even when we feel like dominoes are collapsing all around us? How do we ground ourselves in unfamiliar interactions so that we are having meaningful conversations rather than inciting pain?

I reflected on these ideas in a recent TEDx talk on widening our view of humanity, especially with those who may be unlike us. In cultivating my ideas, I took a closer look at the nature of humanity and the divisions we so easily make, sometimes void of reflection, love or kindness. How powerful it would be if we instead attempted to unite with those who are very different from us at first glance?

It was frustrating however, that even as I was preparing to speak on how to have conversations that push us forward, I felt my own painful experiences coming to the surface. I was challenged by the mandate to walk in love and listen intently, while also wanting to fight with angry words, hoping to force people to reverse the hate in their hearts.

And at other times, I was staring at the ugly biases insidiously rising within me. No one is immune to these complexities, no matter how aware we think we are or how deeply we contemplate these things.

I was challenged to see what lies beneath division, to find that we have simplistic, dichotomous ways in which we choose who we love and who we choose to despise.
We quickly paint pictures of unfamiliar people as others, and as the dreaded and misunderstood them over there. And the others are sometimes depicted as less than, undeserving of respect, and in the most heinous circles, even unworthy of living.

This process doesn’t surface overnight. The need to hastily throw people into categories is insidious. It is nurtured in fear, isolation and ignorance over the course of time. And yet again, no one is immune. The sweetest little church lady may harbor hate toward someone who is unlike her. She’d probably call it something different, maybe labeling it as protecting herself, even though there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Fear is powerful and vile, if fed over time. It can become one’s demise if overtaken by it, both mentally and physically.

Harboring fear that transforms into anger, resentment and hate can annihilate us. We mustn’t weaponize fear the way some do.
Then, in order to care for society in all of its complexity and beauty, we must listen intently to what others are saying. And in doing this, we also care well for ourselves, because after all, we are all others and so we are all one.

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Hear the talk: Confidently Changing the Narrative of Inequity.