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The top 7 misconceptions surrounding mental illness

Mental illness and trauma

In recent years, the subject of mental health has become a lot less taboo. 

For instance, countless celebrities have spoken out about their challenges with mental health. Also, with the emergence of social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram – online conversations are being had left, right, and center about a whole range of mental issues.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 4 people is likely to become affected by neurological and mental health disorders at some stage in their lives.

Therefore it is essential to address some of the common misconceptions surrounding mental health. Some of these misconceptions include: 

The taboo surrounding mental health has gotten worse:

Twenty years ago, mental health initiatives were limited, and those experiencing depressive symptoms, for example, would end up visiting a doctor and likely put on antidepressants.

In this way, symptoms became alleviated, but the root cause of the depression often remained unaddressed.

Antidepressants were the hush drug, where people would often be prescribed medication to treat depression, rather than a combination approach, which would often result in intermittent relapse. 

Nowadays, things have improved with treatments such as:

Furthermore, having a therapist is commonplace amongst many age groups, and talking about struggles, even more so.

Mental health is a question of extremes:

It is possible to experience a mental health condition to varying degrees. 

Most people assume that depression, for example, must be an all-encompassing condition where the sufferer cannot get off the couch or get out of bed in the morning.

Therefore it is helpful to remember that the most upbeat, happiest people can also struggle with feelings of depression. 

Similar to a physical condition, mental health has a spectrum that ranges from:

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

Those on the spectrum qualifying as mild might not always exhibit the most extreme version of mental illness.

However, people still require the same care and attention no matter where they appear on the spectrum. There should be no distinctions.

Mental health problems are rare:

As it currently stands, 450 million people worldwide suffer from some form of mental illness, with studies conveying that mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of poor health and disabilities across the globe.

Depression alone affects more than 264 million people worldwide, and recent studies conducted in the US illustrate that these rates have tripled during the pandemic. 

Also, an estimated 75% of the population with a mental health disorder have not received treatment for their condition. Statistics also show that 1 in 13 suffers from some form of anxiety disorder. 

These figures highlight that suffering from a mental health condition is not such a rarity after all, although it is an unfortunate reality for many people.

Those with a mental health condition are unable to hold down a job:

Celebrities have long spoken about their challenges with mental health, such as the likes of:

  • Jim Carrey
  • Demi Lovato
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Stephen King
  • Kristen Bell

The range of mental health issues experienced by the above celebrities include:

It is doubtful then that those suffering from depression or any other mental health disorder are incapable of functioning well at work.  

Of course, mental health conditions often affect the body and can cause a range of physical symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Changes in appetite

The symptoms you see above (and the mental and emotional aspects) can present many challenges to a mental health sufferer.

The point is that it is possible for a person to be functional and have a mental health disorder. The two are not mutually exclusive.

People suffering from poor mental health are violent:

Perhaps one of the most unhelpful misconceptions surrounding mental health. This type of thinking also illustrates that although we have come a long way in understanding mental health as a society, we have a long way to go.

Of course, there are mental conditions that increase the potential for someone to become violent (such as those with triple morbidity), cases of violence in those suffering from mental health disorders are in the minority.

The media has sensationalized violence in association with mental illness in films such as Split and Psycho. The characters in these movies suffer from several mental health disorders, but they are hyped massively for the sake of publicity. 

Of course, this over-sensationalized viewpoint does not do a whole lot for the stigma already attached to mental health.

According to Sir Graham Thornicroft, a professor of psychiatry at King’s College, London, people suffering from mental health disorders are often the victims of violence.

People with more severe mental illnesses (such as Bipolar and Schizophrenia) are more likely to be violent than those without these disorders, which is still disconcerting for many reasons Thornicroft.

Mental health problems only occur in those with bad childhoods:

Our environment matters, and numerous psychologists and mental health workers will vouch for this many will also be surprised to learn that most behavior is biological.

Genetic dispositions play a significant role in mental health, which makes the conditions far more perplexing and often harder to diagnose.

It goes back to the age-old nature v nurture debate; is a behavior a product of our environment or are we innately programmed to be who we are from our biology and DNA?

Trimarchi (2012) explains that: Having just one blood relative with a mental health problem can significantly increase the risk for an individual developing a similar (if not the same) mental health issue in the future.  

Some mental health disorders are genetically linked, conditions such as:

  • Bipolar
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

Those whose parents who either had (or still have) one of the above mental health conditions are up to 15% more likely to develop the same. Although having a pleasant childhood does factor into the quality of future mental health, it does not exempt anyone from having a mental health condition.

Having a mental health problem is a sign of weakness:

Having a mental illness is NOT a sign of weakness.

Unfortunately, though, due to the stigma around mental health, people often experience shame and guilt for the way they feel. 

These feelings often create a double-edged sword, as they often result in a person not reaching out for help. It also presents many challenges for mental health professionals. 

It can be hard to admit when we have a problem, but there is absolutely no shame in reaching out and getting the help you need. Admitting to a problem and reaching out is one of the first steps to recovery; it may be challenging at first, but necessary.

It is also helpful to remember that sharing your feelings and thoughts with another, takes a lot of courage; it certainly does not make you weak!

In conclusion, it appears that there needs to be more heightened awareness around the stigma and misconceptions associated with mental health. We have come on in leaps and bounds over the years, but it is clear from the literature that there is quite a way to go.


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