The following post is from our Recovery-Centered Clinical System (RCCS) Tidbit of the Month series. Each month, the RCCS Steering Committee creates practices to support our recovery culture within our programs and among staff. Click here to learn more about the RCCS.
Since 1949, May is recognized as Mental Health Month. Each year, advocates work together to sponsor community awareness events like NAMIwalks to educate the public about mental health. At Telecare, we believe that mental health conditions are important to discuss year-round, but highlighting them during Mental Health Month (or Mental Illness Week in October) provides a dedicated time for mental health advocates across the country to come together as one unified voice.
One way to fight stigma is to educate and dispel myths of mental illness in our communities. Even clients and their families can find relief in gaining a deeper understanding that what they hear in the media or from others may not be correct.
Read the following myths about mental health and ask yourself: “is this new learning for me?” Read the clarification after each myth. For further education, you can visit the links at the bottom of this post.
Myth #1: You either suffer from mental illness or you don’t
Mental health is not a binary — there is no one or the other. Different people experience mental health issues that require a variety of levels of care. Just like physical health, mental health exists on a spectrum, and the severity can vary depend on the individual and circumstance. Never dismiss another person’s experience because you think that their presenting symptoms are not severe enough to be considered diagnosable.
Myth #2: Mental illness is a sign of personal weakness
A mental illness is not a personal flaw. Being diagnosed with a mental illness does not make one “less than” or bad. A person with a mental illness can be as mentally capable as the next person. In fact, some people become mentally stronger because of the experiences and issues they faced. There are also many things that are in play when we talk about mental health, such as genetic, biological, social, and environmental factors. Mental illness should not ever be seen as a personal fault.
Myth #3: People with mental health issues cannot sustain healthy relationships
It’s not uncommon that people with mental health issues often get the blame when things fall apart in relationships. Yes, managing mental health can be particularly difficult when juggling everything else that the relationship requires — but with adequate love and support, things can work out just fine. One partner diagnosed with a mental illness may prove to be a challenge for the relationship, but it doesn’t mean that the person isn’t deserving of love or that they can’t love another.
Myth #4: Mental health problems can’t be prevented
Well, you can’t stop genetic factors from playing a role in life, nor can you reverse traumatic life events. However, you can take steps to improve your overall wellbeing and lower the likelihood of possible future problems. Keeping to healthy habits like eating well, sleeping well, and exercising often, can help with your overall mental and physical wellbeing. Also, letting go of toxic habits like negative thoughts about yourself or excessive worrying can make a difference over time too.
Myth #5: People with mental health issues are often drug abusers
This is an unfounded myth that stems from social stigmas and discrimination. It is a sweeping generalization that puts two different groups of people into one. While there are cases where people with mental illness misuse prescriptions, and those with substance use issues develop mental health problems, grouping these two categories of people together only causes more misunderstandings and allow people to put shame on others.
Myth #6: Some people claim that they are mentally ill when they are not
It is not up to you to decide if someone is mentally ill or not. Many people appear to be fine on the outside, but actually they are hurting or suffering within. And sometimes people may suddenly act out, not because they are attention-seeking, but because that’s how they truly feel on the inside.
Myth #7: Mental illness only affects the mind
Mental illness can manifest as physical symptoms as well: fatigue, body tensions, aches or pains — the list goes on. Depression is known to cause a loss of appetite in some, while anxiety may result in insomnia and digestive issues.
Myth #8: People with mental health issues won’t be able to perform at work
People diagnosed with a mental illness are just as productive and competent as other employees. Severity of symptoms manifest differently between individuals and should not be a judge of someone’s right to work.
Myth #9: People with mental health issues are violent, unpredictable, and dangerous
We see it all the time in movies and television shows, but just like a bourgeoning writer with a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan — these characters rarely reflect reality. The American Psychological Association reported that only 7.5% of crimes are directly linked to symptoms of mental illness. Other factors like poverty, substance use, and lack of critical social support systems, are more probable reasons why people commit violent acts. In fact, people with mental illnesses are actually more likely to become victims of violent crime than the general population.
Myth #10: Mental health problems will never go away
Most mental illnesses can be treated. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that 70 - 90% of individuals experience symptom relief with the help of therapy and/or medication. Complete recovery is often possible; with the right kind of help, as well as support from friends and family, people are able to lead healthy, productive, and satisfying lives.