May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Because we are passionate about and dedicated to helping make a difference in the lives of those struggling with mental health, it’s important that we talk about it. While mental health awareness, understanding, and research has come a long way, unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions circulating about.
There are a few reasons for this. Until recently, it was often considered inappropriate and unacceptable to talk about mental illness. As a result, rumors, myths, and misinformation quickly spread. And while progress has been made, there is still a good amount of stigma, stereotyping, and shunning surrounding the topic of mental illness and those suffering.
Other factors creating misconceptions around mental health include it being an uncomfortable topic that people often don’t want to talk about (although we need to), it's difficult to understand unless you’ve been through it yourself, and every person who suffers is so different.
All of this is why we believe it’s critical to talk about mental health struggles so that we can start conversations that will hopefully help break these stigmas and myths.
With that said, below we are debunking 6 common misconceptions about mental health and presenting the truth about each.
1. Myth: Mental Health Disorders Aren't Real
Until you’ve walked a path of struggling with mental health or been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it can be difficult to understand what someone is going through. And because of that, it might be easy to assume that these disorders aren’t real or can’t be “that bad”. Mental illnesses are also often not noticeable, which could cause people to believe they aren’t real.
The truth is, mental health disorders are very much real. You can see the stats in the second myth below that show just how prevalent they really are. Mental illnesses are just as real as the flu, common cold, a broken leg, or heart attack. The brain is an organ that can be sick just like any other.
It’s so important we all understand that mental illnesses are real and legitimate disorders, and those who struggle are deserving of help and treatment.
2. Myth: Mental Health Issues Won't Affect You
This myth often comes from people either thinking mental health disorders are uncommon or that they’re somehow immune because they have a “good” life or are “strong” (which revolves around the untrue stereotype that the mentally ill are weak).
But the truth is, mental health problems are a lot more common than you might think. In America, approximately 1 in 5 adults will experience a mental health disorder in any given year, and almost half of US adults will be diagnosed in their lifetime.1 Mental illnesses are often complex and a result of multiple factors, so they could affect anyone—regardless of your past or present.
Now, we don’t say these things to scare you. But rather, we want to help make you aware of how prevalent mental health problems are. Even if you won’t ever personally struggle, we guarantee you know or will know someone who does.
3. Myth: "Just Get Over It Already"
Most of us, if not all, have heard the horrible advice or things people have said to those suffering with mental health disorders. Things such as “just snap out of it”, “it’s all in your head”, “stop faking it”, or “just get over it already”. As if the shame and pain from the mental illness isn’t enough, they also have to endure guilt from sayings like these too. Sadly, people still very much think that individuals struggling mentally are weak, lazy, faking it, or crazy.
The truth is, mental illness is not an emotion like being sad that someone can then easily move on from. People suffering are not faking it for attention and it’s definitely not all in their head. Mental illnesses are also a mix of many complex factors—such as biological (genetics, physical illness or injury, brain chemistry), life experiences (such as trauma or history of abuse), and family history of mental health conditions. It’s not something where they can snap out of it or get over it quickly or easily. They are complex disorders that take individualized treatment plans to manage.
4. Myth: It's a Forever Diagnosis
Many people think that if they or someone they know is diagnosed with a mental illness, that it’s permanent. Their life will never be the same or go back to “normal”...whatever normal is. Essentially, in their minds, their life is over.
The truth is that it’s not often a permanent diagnosis. Of course, it's hard to use this as a blanket statement because everybody's journey is so different. But, getting diagnosed with a mental disorder or struggling mentally does not guarantee that person will always struggle.
There are more treatments, services, professionals, and support systems than ever before to help those suffering learn to live with and manage their diagnosis. With proper treatment, most people can and will live full, productive lives. Not that they may not struggle or have future episodes, but rather that it will not mean they will have to live with it forever.
5. Myth: People With Mental Health Issues Are ____
Crazy, dangerous, violent, unpredictable…you can fill in the blank.
This is, unfortunately, in part due to mental illnesses being poorly portrayed in movies and TV shows. People also often assume that just because some individuals with mental illness can be violent, that means everyone is. But the problem is that we are making a general judgment based on the extreme few, which is never accurate.
The truth is, everyone’s experience is so different. While some people with mental illness may behave in dangerous outbursts, studies show that the vast majority of those suffering are not prone to aggression or violence.2 In fact, only 3-5% of violent acts come from those suffering with severe mental health problems.3 And in a study of crimes committed by those with mental illness, only 7.5% of those crimes were directly related to symptoms of mental illness.4
All of this shows that people with mental health issues are often not violent and that mental health does not increase violence or aggression. Last, but not least, mental health issues are real biological, psychological, and physiological issues. People suffering are not crazy and it’s certainly not “all in their head”.
6. Myth: You Can Tell If Someone Has a Mental Illness
People often think they could easily pinpoint those who are struggling with mental health issues. As if those who struggle all look the same, walking around talking to themselves or acting reckless. Another example where this myth is especially true is with eating disorders. People think eating disorders have a look or a size, when they simply don’t.
The truth is maybe you can tell…but most often, you can’t tell if someone has a mental illness. As we’ve mentioned a few times before, everyone’s battle with mental health problems is different and looks different. Mental illness is a spectrum—from barely there to extremely severe—just like there would be for any other illness. The ultimate truth is mental health disorders don’t have a look, which is actually what can cause so much harm. You never know if someone is hurting, so make sure you continue to check in on yourself and loved ones.
Unveiling and debunking mental health myths is something we are passionate about because this conversation needs to be had. Mental health isn’t something we as a society can ignore or push aside anymore. Progress has been made, and we hope you learned something new here so that we, as a whole, can continue pushing this movement forward. There is hope for those struggling with mental health!