Mental health myths Can you tell the difference?

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Can you tell the difference between a mental health myth and fact? Learn the truth about the most common mental health myths.

Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me

Actually, even if your mental health is strong, someone among your family and friends probably is working to overcome mental health problems. More than 1 in every 5 people will experience symptoms of mental health problems in a given year. However, only a small proportion of those people will talk about it or seek help, so they often go unnoticed. Over a lifetime, almost 10% of men and 25% of women will experience a least one major depressive episode, and close to one-third of the population will experience panic-related anxiety.

Over a lifetime, almost 10% of men and 25% of women will experience a least one major depressive episode

When you look at all the possible mental health problems, it is easy to see how they influence everyone. Furthermore, if you are healthy, you are probably doing something to keep it that way, and getting support in those efforts. If either of those things were to change you would likely learn very quickly that mental health problems can happen to you.

Myth: Medications have terrible side effects and change your personality

To begin with, many of the best treatments don’t even involve taking medication. For most people, when medication is used in the right dosage, side effects are usually small or non-existent. In the case of many medications, there are a variety of choices to help people minimize any unwanted effects. Even more important, when medications work, people have fewer symptoms and feel better.

That’s a good change.

Myth: People with mental health problems are violent & dangerous

In fact, people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence than they are to be perpetrators of it. While some people do become violent, the numbers are far fewer than in the general population. The real risk with mental illness is that out of desperation people will hurt or sometimes even kill themselves. It can be that serious.

Myth: People with mental health problems are weak, it is just an excuse for bad behavior

Many of the causes of mental health problems are outside of people’s control, and symptoms can be far more severe that you might imagine. Most people with mental health problems cope well enough that their symptoms are not noticed by others. When symptoms don’t improve, it’s usually because the wrong treatment is being used, or a treatment is not being administered properly. This usually requires a change in strategy, not just a change in attitude or more work.

Myth: Therapy and self-help are a waste of time

Thousands of studies have shown that specific psychotherapy techniques are effective in reducing or eliminating many of the symptoms that go with mental health problems. In many cases, they are even the first choice, gold standard treatment. Even many self-help methods have gained research support for their effectiveness. It turns out that there are lots of things a person can do to help with the right training and resources. Furthermore, when we look at brain connectivity, the same changes often occur with things like cognitive behavioral therapy that go with many drug therapies.

Myth: Mental health problems aren’t real illnesses

When most people think of the word illness, they think about things like physical injury, diseases or infections. These are thought to be “real” medical conditions that have clear causes and treatments. However, your brain is just as vulnerable to the effects of injury or illness, though the mechanisms may be different from that of other parts of the body. Just like other illnesses, mental health problems can be inherited, are influenced by a person’s experience and lifestyle, and can improve with the right treatment. And just like other illnesses, if there is no treatment things will often get worse, not better.

Some of the difficulty here is the use of the word illness. For many, it comes with a lot of assumptions about the way our biology can go wrong, or that diseases can invade our body. Newer research on brain connectivity is showing us that when it comes to the mind, how the parts work together is as important as whether the parts themselves are “healthy”. Dysfunctional patterns in thinking are reflected in very real and observable changes in brain connectivity, just as healthy functioning is underpinned by consistent networks and patterns of activity.

Myth: Everyone has problems, some people are just looking for excuses

The idea that mental health problems are somehow a reflection of people being dramatic or being complainers is a common one. Part of the reason this is so common is that many symptoms of mental health problems seem to simply be more extreme examples of common thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. As most people with mental health problems will tell you, the symptoms – and the stigma that goes with myths like this one – are something that most people would prefer to avoid at any cost. They are not something people choose to experience, and most people will do almost anything to get rid of them. Rather than being an excuse for bad behavior, this sort of stigmatizing belief is the kind of thing that keeps people from talking about their problems and getting help.

Myth: Mental Health is just another word for happiness.

Each and every day most people will experience episodes of happiness and unhappiness, not to mention lots of other positive and negative emotions. Unhappiness often motivates us to apply coping strategies and perhaps try to change things, which is a healthy thing to do even though it may be unpleasant or a hassle. So it is entirely possible to be unhappy yet have good mental health. However, if unhappiness persists despite your best efforts, it can contribute to mental health problems. Also, if you are unhappy even when conditions are good and stress levels are normal, this may be a sign of mental health problems.

Myth: People with mental health problems just lack smarts.

Being smart does not guarantee good mental health, though a lot of evidence does show that having more experience and education can reduce the amount and severity of mental health problems that occur in people’s lives. Most people with little or no education have very good mental health, and some very intelligent people have lots of mental health issues. What people with mental health problems really lack a lot of the time are things like an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis, a clear understanding of what that means and why it is happening, an achievable, research-based treatment plan, and access to qualified professional help. Without most or all these things, all the smarts in the world will be of little benefit.