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:
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.