We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years reducing the stigma of mental illness and addiction. People speaking out about their struggles with mental illness, public education campaigns, movies and television shows, and even drug commercials have helped raise awareness about mental illness. Despite that, we still have a long way to go. More people now see mental illness as a common problem that needs treatment, but the people who need help are often unwilling to seek treatment because they fear being stigmatized. Here are some misconceptions about mental illness that still persist.
Mental Illness is a Sign of Weakness
Unfortunately, this misconception is very common. People are afraid to seek treatment because they’re afraid of looking weak. There are several reasons this is simply not true. One is that a physical illness is not a sign of weakness, so why should a mental illness be any different? Having the flu is not a sign that you lack character. Spraining your ankle is not a sign you lack willpower. Having depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder are no different. Mental illnesses, like physical illnesses and injuries are just something that happens because we’re massively complex organisms trying to survive in an unpredictable and sometimes hostile world.
Second, living with mental illness often takes a tremendous amount of strength. If you are severely depressed but you still manage to get out of bed and go to work, that’s an amazing accomplishment. Getting help is also a sign of strength. It shows that you can do what’s best for yourself, your family, and your company despite your fears that you might appear weak.
People with Mental Illness are Dangerous
Many sensational and horrific crimes are blamed on mental illness, but in reality, less than five percent of violent crimes are directly related to mental illness. People with schizophrenia are often blamed for spree killings or mass shootings, but people with schizophrenia are actually no more violent than the general population. They are, however, about 100 times more likely to commit suicide. People with mental illness are also more likely to be the victims of violent crime. The only mental illness that significantly increases your risk of committing violent crimes is antisocial personality disorder, which accounts for a small percent of mental illness. Most crimes are related to addiction, poverty, greed, and interpersonal conflict. Mental illness is rarely a direct cause, although it often is a factor in addiction.
Mental Health is All-or-Nothing
We tend to think someone either has a mental illness or she doesn’t. In reality, mental health is on a spectrum. Some people are extremely happy and well adjusted and some people will, unfortunately never be able to lead a normal life. Nearly all of us harbor irrational beliefs that hold us back and make us unhappy, but in some people these may be so bad they can barely function. Most people have fears that are disproportionate to actual threats. Hardly anyone enjoys a state of optimum mental health. It’s debatable whether such as state even exists. We all want to be a little happier, a little more effective, improve our relationships a little, or be less self-destructive. Sometimes we need a little help to accomplish that.
Mental Illness is Forever
Many people believe when you have a mental illness, you’re stuck with it for life. Sometimes this is true. Schizophrenia, for example, doesn’t go away, and if you’ve had several bouts of depression, it’s likely to keep coming back from time to time. Although some mental illnesses are chronic, that doesn’t mean they can’t be treated. Therapy and medication can minimize symptoms and allow you to be happier and more effective. The illness may not go away, but many of the negative effects of the illness can be controlled.
And some mental illnesses do go away. For example, if you’re feeling depressed because of a major setback such as divorce, losing your job, or the death of a loved one, it’s likely that with proper treatment, the depression won’t become cyclical. Trauma leading to PTSD can often be treated effectively, as can phobias and anxiety. Brains are extremely plastic and they can adapt to a surprising number of challenges.
You can’t Prevent Mental Illness
It’s true that much of mental illness is down to bad luck. There are genetic factors that predispose you to certain mental illnesses. Trauma, especially in childhood, is a major risk factor. We often learn maladaptive patterns from our parents and those can lead to mental illness. However, there are also many factors we can control. For example, a healthy lifestyle can help prevent mental illness and moderate the symptoms of mental illness. A healthy diet full of vitamins, antioxidants, and healthy omega-3 fats supports brain health and reduces your risk of depression and anxiety. Regular exercise helps reduce stress and improve executive function, which helps you regulate your emotions.
Therapy can also protect you against recurrences of mental illness. In cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, you learn to identify unhealthy thinking and replace it with more productive thought patterns. This takes a little practice, but once you become comfortable with it, you will have the skills to protect yourself from the destructive emotions that result from distorted thinking. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, has even been shown to prevent relapses in people who have had three or more episodes of depression.
Mental health affects everyone. Almost everyone will face some kind of mental health challenge or know someone who will. It’s important to replace myth with fact if we want to be mentally healthy and help our loved ones be mentally healthy too.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.