12 Mental Health Myths! Debunked.
There are many misconceptions around mental health and mental illness. The assumptions that people have around this topic are what contributes to the stigma surrounding it. The false beliefs surrounding mental health problems affect how people treat those with mental health issues, as well as how people with mental health issues perceive themselves. I am addressing 12 common mental health myths today to help break these misconceptions.
MYTH #1: Mental health and mental illness are the same thing
Mental health and mental illness are not synonymous!
Everyone has mental health - just as everyone has physical health. Mental health is your emotional well-being. It is simply your mood, emotions, thoughts, and the way that you process the events and emotional stresses of everyday life. Your mental health is a continuum and it is normal and healthy to feel a range of emotions like happiness, sadness, frustration, stress, anger, excitement, etc.
Good mental health does not mean that you are happy and confident all of the time, but that you can live and cope well despite any problems that you may have. It is normal to feel a mix of emotions to varying degrees throughout your life. Certain emotions such as happiness, sadness, and stress may be more dominant for short periods of time, but this should not be worrisome unless these emotions begin to negatively interfere with your life for an extended period of time. Just like if someone has a cold for a few days it doesn’t mean that they have a serious illness, if someone is feeling sad for a few days it doesn’t mean that they have depression.
On the other hand, mental illness is when one’s emotions, feelings, and/or thoughts interfere with their relationships, behaviour, responsibilities, and ability to function in everyday life. There are a multitude of mental illnesses and they each present themselves in different ways depending on the illness and the person. Mental illness, just like physical illness, can’t be ignored and most often times will not get better without proper treatment.
MYTH #2: People with a mental illness never get better
Treatment does work! Today, there is more knowledge and information about treatment for mental illnesses than ever before. Mental health disorders are more often short term, and it is possible to recover from them. When people are experiencing mental health disorders that last for a longer period of time, this does not mean that they must feel unwell forever. They can learn skills and get support to help them manage these challenges, and get back to living a fulfilling life. It is not easy, and can be quite scary, but it is achievable.
MYTH #3: People with a mental illness are more violent
There is a common stereotype, portrayed especially in Hollywood, that people with mental illness are more violent than the average person. This is not true! People with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than any other person. In fact, only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a severe mental illness. In contrast, people with a serious mental health issue are actually 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general population. This means that people with severe mental illnesses are actually more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
MYTH #4: Mental health issues only affect certain people
1 in 5 Canadians have a diagnosed mental illness! You may not experience a mental health disorder yourself, but you definitely know people experiencing mental health challenges.
Mental health issues are caused by genetic factors, biological factors, environmental factors, or a combination of the three. As a result, anybody can have a mental illness. Regardless of their race, ability, or social class. This being said, statistically, marginalized groups are often at greater risk of having mental health disorders due to factors such as intergenerational trauma, discrimination, and other environmental causes that are a result of the way our society treats and/or has treated these marginalized or minority groups.
MYTH #5: Substance use causes mental illness
Substance use and mental illness can be closely linked in some situations, but one does not directly cause the other. Long term drug and alcohol abuse can result in serious symptoms that are similar to some mental illnesses. And on the other hand people with mental illness will sometimes use alcohol and drugs to self medicate. The relationship between substance use and mental illness is something to be conscious of and to monitor so that it doesn’t lead to substance abuse as a form of self medication. Likewise, if one is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, it is important to monitor how this is affecting one’s mental health.
MYTH #6: People with mental health issues should just try harder to control how they feel
If you are someone who has never had any personal experiences with mental health issues, it can be quite difficult to understand what a person with a mental illness is feeling. When we assume things about someone’s experience with a mental illness, we are doing great damage. Rather than giving those struggling with the love, and support that they need, we intensify their struggle. Telling someone with depression to “cheer up” or telling someone with anxiety to “just relax”, is like telling someone with diabetes to “just lower their blood sugar level”. It is not as simple as flipping a switch. Patience, time, treatment, and hard work is required for the symptoms of a mental illness to improve.
MYTH #7: Mental illness is “trending” and just a way for people to get attention
Conversations around mental health and mental illness have taken a big spotlight in recent years as many people, both famous and not, have come out in the open about their personal struggles with mental health.
There is not currently enough data to know if the number of people dealing with mental health issues have increased, or if people are simply starting to be more open about their struggles. Regardless of whether or not mental illness is on the rise, it is a positive thing that the topic of mental health is getting more attention. The more light that is shed on this topic, the more knowledge people will have about it, and the less stigma and fear there will be around mental health issues. The fact that more and more people are feeling comfortable speaking out about their mental health challenges is allowing for more people to get the help and support that they need. Who cares if they’re trying to get attention or not? They deserve to be heard!
MYTH #8: You can not lead a normal life or be successful if you have a mental illness
Although you can’t physically see it, workplaces are filled with people who are dealing with or have dealt with mental health challenges. Likewise, many renowned celebrities and well-known business people, such as Steve Jobs, Demi Lovato, and Brad Pitt have had or have a mental illness. Having a mental illness does not impact your intelligence or your potential. It is possible to obtain the skills and resources to effectively treat and manage your illness, and accordingly, comfortably manage your everyday life.
MYTH #9: Only people with diagnosed mental illnesses need therapy
Everyone and anyone can benefit from going to therapy, not just those with a diagnosed mental illness! There is no shame in going to therapy and it does not mean that there is something wrong with you. It is simply a place to talk and work through any stresses or troubles in your life. Some people do not enjoy therapy, or it can take some trial and error to find a therapist whom you are comfortable and compatible with, but it does not hurt to give it a try! Visit our resources page to find affordable therapy options near you.
MYTH #10: Mental health issues are just an excuse for laziness or poor behaviour
Some people with a mental illness may act in ways that appear unexpected or strange to others. It is important to remember that mental illnesses can have a large influence behind these behaviours, and it is not necessarily the person you know behind these behaviours.
People who experience changes in behaviour as a result of their mental illness often feel very ashamed and embarrassed about how they’re acting. At the same time, people with mental illnesses, just like everyone else, sometimes make poor decisions and act out of line for reasons unrelated to their mental illness.
MYTH #11: Mental health problems do not affect children or youth. Any problems they have are just part of growing up.
50% of all mental health issues show signs and symptoms, which are often diagnosable, before the age of 14. By the age of 24, 75% of mental health disorders have already begun. Often times, the symptoms of mental illness that children and teens show are dismissed as natural moodiness, and behaviour that comes with growing up. It is important to recognize that these signs may not just be growing pains.
Mental illness can greatly impact the way young people learn, build important skills, and develop relationships, leading to potential problems in their future. Early mental health support can help children and teenagers before these problems interfere with their developmental needs. Unfortunately, only 20% of young people with a diagnosable mental health issue actually receive the treatment that they need.
MYTH #12: Bad parenting causes mental health issues
Mental illness in children and youth is caused by genetic factors, biological factors, environmental factors, or a combination of the three. Mental health disorders can be the result of abusive or neglectful treatment, as well as particularly stressful events, but there is never one single factor that is responsible for a mental illness! Support from close friends and family can go a long way in helping people recover from mental health disorders. For parents to blame themselves for their children’s mental health issues, is counterproductive and creates an emotional burden and stress on the parent, which is detrimental to the parent and child’s mental health! Let go of blame and guilt, and instead try to focus on how you can support your child.
I hope that you have learned something new from these 12 mental health myths. With the new information that you have now, I challenge you to take a moment to reflect on the assumptions you have around mental health and mental illness.
How do the stereotypes and stigma around mental health affect the way you view people with mental illness?
How can you ensure that you are not perpetuating these misconceptions?
Keep on educating yourselves, asking questions, and reaching out when you need support!
You are loved,