Myths & Facts About Mental Illness
by Allison Hadley, Clinical Intern at Owens & Associates
May is Mental Health Awareness Month! We’d like to celebrate this month by sharing with you a list of common of myths and facts about various mental illnesses to help build your awareness!
Myth: People with mental illnesses just need to toughen up, exercise, cheer up, and focus on the positive.
Fact: Though sometimes increasing one’s physical activity, keeping a gratitude journal, and practicing what counselors call ‘cognitive restructuring’ (reframing our thoughts) can be effective treatment objectives for mental illness, they are not ‘cure all’ activities. Mental illnesses are complex, and a myriad of factors can contribute to mental illness such as genetic predisposition or family history of mental illnesses, traumatic experiences, life stressors, medical issues, and environmental factors.
Myth: Depression is just being really sad.
Fact: Sometimes people with depression feel an overall sense of sadness, but usually there is also a loss of interest in people and activities one used to enjoy, thoughts of worthlessness, and feeling hopeless. It is a lot more than the typical ‘blues’ people feel from time to time. Depression can also present itself as restlessness, agitation, or increased irritability; irritability and agitation are especially common amongst kids and adolescents experiencing depression.
Myth: People with depression are just lazy.
Fact: Mental illnesses like depression have very real physical symptoms, like extreme fatigue and over-sleeping. Sometimes pain can be a physical symptom, and when dealing with pain over a long period of time, people can become very tired.
Myth: People with anxiety need to calm down or avoid what stresses them out.
Fact: Avoidance of stressors actually has the opposite effect for people with anxiety and phobias; it reinforces the anxiety or fear response and strengthens it. This is not to say they should immediately be thrown into the extreme of what stresses them out, because that would be detrimental, too. The constant worry a person has about various things are usually perceived as threats, which then triggers the ‘fight-or-flight’ response in the body, making it difficult to ‘calm down’ until the threat is gone. Sometimes the person can experience a panic attack if they experience the anxiety long enough, which can be a very frightening experience. Counseling techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy have shown to be very effective for people with anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Myth: I can’t stand when things aren’t in order or color-coordinated! I’m so OCD!
Fact: OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is not simply a personality quirk or a preference for neatness; it can be a seriously frightening, debilitating mental illness for the person experiencing it. Often the person will have an obsessive fear (i.e. “My baby will die”), intrusive thought or image (i.e. “I’m going to have a heart attack” or seeing images in one’s mind of them hurting or killing someone they love). The fear, intrusive thought or image then leads to what is called a compulsion – an action that will keep the frightening thing from happening. This could be checking on one’s newborn baby every three minutes during the night to ensure the baby won’t die. It might be taking one’s pulse or going to the emergency room anytime they feel a pain in their chest. It could be making sure any sharp objects are as far away from you as possible to keep that frightful intrusive image from coming true. The key here is an obsessive fear/intrusive thought/intrusive image, with an action that person feels compelled to do or avoiding things to the extreme in order to keep the scary thing from happening.
Myth: People with mental illness tend to be violent.
Fact: From MentalHealth.gov, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.”
Myth: People with good lives don’t have mental illnesses; only people who had bad parents or childhoods have mental health problems.
Fact: Mental health problems don’t discriminate; they can affect anyone. Mental illnesses are complex, and a myriad of factors can contribute to mental illness such as genetic predisposition or family history of mental illnesses, traumatic experiences, life stressors, medical issues, and environmental factors.
Feel free to check out some of the resources used in this post!