Fact or Fiction? Misconceptions about Mental Health
There is so much information and hearsay about mental health today that it seems crazy some misconceptions still exist. From thinking people with bipolar disorder are constantly moody, to having a mental illness means you are a crazy violent person – these are just not true.
So here are a few theories and misconceptions about mental health:
1) People with mental illnesses are violent
FALSE. Having a mental illness means you are a vulnerable and have to deal with challenging symptoms - like how someone with an illness such as diabetes. Yes, mental illnesses have to ability to alter your thinking or destabilize your mood, that does not automatically mean you become a violent person. Only 5% of violent crimes in the U.S. are committed by people with serious mental issues. In fact, a person with mental illness is 10 times more likely to be a victim of violence than be a perpetrator.
2) A full moon makes people crazy
FALSE. Although the term “lunacy” does stem from the association that the moon was the cause of periods of insanity in the 16th century, scientific studies have failed to find any correlation between the two. However, a study in 2014 showed that during the period surrounding a full moon, an emergency department saw more psychiatry related patients than typically recorded.
3) Mental illness is caused by personal weakness
FALSE. This is one of my most hated misconceptions. There is absolutely no reason for people to think this way, but unfortunately due to the stigma surrounding mental health, it is quite common. It is caused by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, social, and environmental factors. Seeking and accepting help is a sign of resilience and strength. Read that again: it is a sign of resilience and strength.
4) People are born with mental illness
FALSE. Whilst vulnerability towards certain mental illnesses may run in a family (such as bipolar mood disorder), other people can develop these with no family history at all. There are lots of factors that contribute to the onset of a mental illness. These may include stress, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment, social isolation, a major physical illness, physical and sexual abuse, or disability.
5) People with mental illness are “faking it” or doing it for attention
FALSE. Would they say the same thing if they saw someone with cancer behaving the same way? No. People suffering from mental illness did not choose to have this, just like a cancer patient did not ask to contract cancer. Yet the stigma around mental health illnesses is such that people sometimes automatically have this pre-judgement in their mind.
6) 5G causes mental illness
UNKNOWN. I had to include this after seeing so many conspiracy theory posts about 5G, the Coronavirus spread and mental illness, and they seem so far-fetched to believe. But there’s simply not enough research to confirm either way. Watch this space for future updates, but according to a collection of independent scientists, they believe:
“Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans.”
7) Therapy and self-help are a waste of time when there are pills people can take to make them normal.
FALSE. The treatment for mental health problems varies and depends on the individual in question. Some may choose medication, some therapy, and others opt for both. Many individuals work with a support system during the healing and recovery process.
8) I can’t do anything to support someone with a mental health problem
FALSE. There is so much you can do to support someone with a mental health problem:
- Check in with them regularly
- Listen to them without any form of judgement
- Treat them the same way you would anyone else (assuming you are nice to everyone)
- Ask them twice – if you are unsure if they are okay, or of their response in general, ask again.
- Ask them what they would like from you and how you can help them, and then follow through with this.
Whether you are suffering from a mental illness, or know someone who is, there should be no shame or stigma regarding it. Unfortunately, not everyone understands mental health problems and there are many more misconceptions than just the ones stated above. It is important to remember you are not alone, there is a whole network of support out there to help anyone with any worries or concerns they have – you just need to take the first step in reaching out. If you are a family member or friend who wants to help, do your research into the illness; take a look at the vocabulary you use: is it dismissive or minimises the situation etc.; be there for the person and stay consistent; be patient and open minded.
For more information about mental health in general, visit: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/mental-health-problems-introduction/about-mental-health-problems/
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