Misconceptions about Mental Health
Updated: Dec 28, 2020
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of 'Mental Health'? How much do you know about Mental Health? And how do you respond to people with poor Mental Health? The answers to these questions speak a lot about our knowledge regarding this vast topic. We have often heard statements which in reality don’t have empirical evidence supporting them. Time and again we find ourselves misguided by television, social media, etc. when they falsely portray mental health, which only strengthens the stigma surrounding it.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Mental Health is a state of mind characterized by emotional well-being, good behavioural adjustment, relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms, and a capacity to establish constructive relationships and cope with the ordinary demands and stresses of life.
There are numerous myths about mental health, and here are some of the common ones that we’ve elaborated on below:
• Being Mentally ill means I’m going crazy
One of the biggest misconceptions is that Mentally Ill = Crazy. Having a mental illness in no way means that the individual is going 'crazy', out-of-control, or haywire. It does not mean you would suddenly run across the street, jump on sofas, or start tearing your clothes. It is nothing like many movies depict mental illness.
Having a mental illness means that you have an state with challenging symptoms that might affect your thought processes, emotions or affects your daily functioning. It is similar to how physical illness is and how it may present with symptoms such as aches, coughing, running a temperature, etc. While mental illness can change your thinking or perceptions and may affect your behaviour, it does not mean that you’re necessarily disoriented, and do not know where you are or what you are doing (though some mental illnesses do present itself with symptoms of disorientation), it simply means that you like any other human, are susceptible to certain illnesses. And you too (with the appropriate therapeutic interventions) are capable of leading a productive, healthy and even flourishing life.
• Therapy is a quick-fix to all our problems
It is true that therapy helps you think more rationally, help you work through your challenges and achieve your desired goals. But this doesn’t take place within the first two sessions. The first session (and sometimes even the second) typically involves getting acquainted with the client and their problems. Thereafter, a plan is formulated to resolve the presenting concerns and any other issues that may crop up. Therapy is a process which requires an active involvement of both the client and the therapist, to resolve a problem. The progress is also not linear, and one must exercise patience and dedication, trusting the therapeutic process.
• Mental Illness is a sign of weakness
Being diagnosed with mental illness doesn’t make one weak or more flawed than the next. In fact, anyone can get affected by mental illness, even mental health experts! The cause for it depends upon various factors like genetic, biological, social, environmental. All these perspectives are taken into consideration while identifying the cause for a particular illness.
• Therapists have their lives all worked out
Mental Health professionals are only humans with their own set of strengths as well as areas that may require development. While they have acquired the training and expertise on how to deal with various types of mental illnesses, they too may go through a rough patch, or they may find themselves having a bias which could interfere in their therapeutic dealings. At such instances, they too may seek out another mental health professional to help them work through their challenges and gain clarity. After all, Mental Health is for everyone.
• People with mental illness are usually unstable and violent
The symptoms of certain disorders can include erratic mood swings in the individual. Poor mental health can alter perceptions, causing delusions and hallucinations which can affect their behaviour. However, complete instability and being disconnected from reality is not the state of affairs with every disorder. Individuals diagnosed with mental illness can lead normal and even flourishing lives with the appropriate therapeutic, and pharmacological interventions (if required).
In conclusion, it is necessary to debunk these myths in order to help people seek aid when needed. The sooner an individual seeks help the better it is for them, so that they can be on their way to living a flourishing life, one of dignity and fulfillment.
Stigma surrounding mental health is what prevented nearly 80% of persons suffering from mental disorders from receiving treatment even though they had been suffering from their mental illness for more than 12 months, as per the National Mental Health Survey of India, 2015-16. The stigma associated with mental disorders not only affects access to work, education and of those with a disorder but also the family members of those affected.
It is also important for us to be mindful about an individual’s mental condition and not make insensitive statements such as “Get over it!” or “You should try harder!” Let us strive to make this world a better place to live in by not discriminating against people on the basis of their mental health. Let us strive to educate ourselves about the complexities of mental health and give it the importance that it deserves.
Gururaj, G., Varghese, M., Benegal, V., Rao, G. N., Pathak, K., Singh, L. K., & Misra, R. (2016). National mental health survey of India, 2015-16: Summary. Bengaluru: National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences.
VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14646-000