As someone who has been actively engaged in the mental health community on social media for the past few years, I have come across an alarming amount of misconceptions about mental health conditions. Many of these myths either minimize conditions (“Depression is just being sad. Cheer up!”). Others falsely stereotype entire populations (“People with psychosis are ‘crazy’ and violent.”). As someone who has a mood disorder myself, many of the misconceptions personally hurt me. I’d like to speak up about common misconceptions I’ve seen because it is time to fight the lies and illuminate the truth.
Myth 1: You simply aren’t trying hard enough.
Comments with this message have many forms. It may be a comment telling someone to, “just cheer up!” in regards to their severe depression. Many comments oversimplify mental illness. These conditions are not due to a shortage of yoga, kale, green tea or the latest health trend. Why do so many people feel the need to give unsolicited advice to people struggling with mental health issues? It is frustrating to get the message “you could be better on your own, but you simply aren’t trying hard enough.”
Myth 2: Medications are not the answer.
A lot of people go online to look for answers to their mental health questions. Unfortunately, there are many anti-psychiatry accounts. They will tell people medications are not the answer. While medications may not be the best approach for some people, for others, psychiatry can be life-changing, even life-saving. Some of these accounts call medications toxic. Others say “natural” remedies, such as certain diets (likely a diet from a book they are trying to sell you) can “reverse” or “cure” your mental illness. I’m not arguing a healthy diet or lifestyle changes cannot help, but often they are not sufficient for someone facing a debilitating, chronic mental illness. I believe this should be used in conjunction with professional help, not in the place of it.
Myth 3: Mental health conditions are not that serious.
It is clear based on people’s responses, much of the general public does not understand the seriousness of many conditions. Someone cannot will themselves out of their illness. That is not how it works. Mental health conditions are labeled as illnesses because of their severity. An anxiety disorder is not the same as the little bit of anxiety you feel before a presentation at work. Depression is not the equivalent of feeling a little gloomy on a dreary day. For example, people with anxiety attacks sometimes go to the ER because they literally think they are about to die. That is the level of intensity. It isn’t a joke. Mental illness interferes with academics, careers, relationships, families, finances and physical wellness. For some people, their entire lives revolve around their condition. Comments about being “so OCD” or “so bipolar” only add to this dismissive attitude regarding mental illnesses.
Myth 4: All violent people are mentally ill. Mental illness causes violence.
Unfortunately, there are many mass shootings in the United States. Based on my observations, I have seen a pattern. Often, the perpetrator is instantly labeled as “mentally ill.” Mental illness gets blamed for the violence by the media all of the time. This association between violence and mental illness emphasized over and over again by the news creates a very negative perception of those with mental health conditions. People with mental health conditions are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence. This type of recurring reporting is inaccurate and harmful.
Fighting the myths.
While they may not be that direct, often the underlying messages are people with mental health conditions are dangerous, manipulative, unstable, lazy or unsuccessful. This is not true. I have met an amazing network of inspiring, caring people affected by mental illness. I am tired of the harmful statements, the ones which contribute to both public stigma and self-stigma. Stigma often prevents someone from even seeking mental health treatment. Remember: Words have power. Make sure you use yours wisely.