By Alyse Rose, MSW, Assistant Program Director, Woodland Hills
Millions of Americans are affected by mental illnesses, and although we have made strides in increasing awareness of mental illness, stigmas and stereotypes continue to prevent many from seeking the services they need. It is important to stay updated and aware of facts and stereotypes about mental illnesses to ensure you and your loved ones receive services that you need. Below is a list of the top 6 biggest mental health myths and facts that challenge them.
Myth #1: “Only crazy, violent and dangerous people are mentally ill.”
The belief that only “crazy” people are mentally ill is a common misconception. People from all demographics experience mental illness, and the severity level can differ for each person. Mental health can be treated, and the person should not be feared or stigmatized.
Mental illness is often a combination of biological and societal triggers that could happen to anyone at various times during their lives. According to one study, many suffering from mental illnesses are excluded from educational or employment opportunities due to the stigma that they are “crazy,” no matter how qualified they may be. The reality that often goes unnoticed is that many people with mental illnesses are capable of maintaining jobs, attending school, and are active members of their communities.
Myth #2: “Mental health issues are uncommon.”
Mental health problems are much more prevalent than many people think. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) 2015, 1 in 5 adults experience mental health illnesses in a given year, and 1 in 5 youth ages 13-18 experience a severe mental illness. In addition, 13% of children ages 8-15 experience problems with mental illness.
Sadly, many let this myth prevent them from getting support and treatment. Support groups for various issues including depression, anxiety, parenting, addiction are available in most communities, and this can be helpful for those who are suffering to feel they are not alone.
Myth #3: “You can never get better from a mental illness.”
This common misconception keeps those who are suffering feeling hopeless. In reality, with more understanding and awareness of the mental illness, you can reduce the symptoms of depression and learn appropriate coping skills to overcome it and lead a normal life. For example, family and peer support, structured activities, and positive self-talk are helpful for those who suffer from depression.
Myth #4: “You can’t help someone with mental illness unless you’re a professional.”
While you may not be able to cure someone’s depression without professional help, there are things you can do to minimize the symptoms. One effective way to help someone with mental health issues is to listen and be there for support. For example, you can let them know you are there for them, respect their boundaries, and assist them in seeking professional help if necessary. Another helpful action is to assist in finding outside resources like support groups, Twelve Step meetings, a psychiatrist, and/or treatment.
Myth #5: “Depression and sadness are the same.”
Many individuals who believe depression and sadness are the same might say that depressed people should just “get over it.” While sadness is a symptom of depression, it is not synonymous. Sadness is a fleeting feeling that typically comes and goes, while depression is constant. Depression is an abnormal emotional state that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions and behaviors in chronic and pervasive ways. Those who are depressed can feel hopeless, and that most (if not all) aspects of their lives are less enjoyable.
Myth #6: “If I can’t handle my own mental health problems, I am weak.”
In reality, mental health problems have nothing to do with weakness. In fact, one could argue strength comes from awareness of one’s own needs and taking action. Various life factors can contribute to mental health issues, including biological predispositions, life experiences including trauma or abuse, or extreme environmental stressors at school or at work, and many need help to face these issues.
If you or a loved one is in need of mental health services, do not let myths or stigmas prevent you from seeking the help you need!