Fighting stigma and breaking the silence are important keys to coping with depression and other mental health issues.
Unfortunately, harmful myths or beliefs may prevent people from speaking up and getting the help they need. We partnered with our friends at Kaiser Permanente to dispel the five most harmful misperceptions that need to change to better manage mental health for ourselves and our loved ones.
1. Mental health issues are caused, at least in part, by a personal weakness or failing.
Like physical health issues, the onset of mental health issues can be linked to many causes that are no fault of the person living with the condition. Causes include traumatic events, chemical imbalances, or genetics, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illness. Because of fluctuations in hormone levels, as many as one in seven women may experience postpartum depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
2. People who experience mental health issues are unpredictable and dangerous.
Mental health conditions are NOT more likely to cause violent behavior. In fact, it is far more likely that people with a serious mental health condition are at risk of being a victim of violence, according to a 2003 study published in the World of Psychiatry. Rather, socio-demographic and socio-economic factors are the major determinants of violence.
3. People who experience mental health issues are “crazy.”
Maintaining mental health is just as important as maintaining physical health. And it should be taken just as seriously.
We have a long way to go as a society in treating mental health with the gravity it deserves, but some of the first steps we must take are removing the stigma surrounding mental illness and understanding mental health more fully. Avoiding the use of derogatory terms for mental health issues is one way to do this.
4. If someone appears productive and high-functioning, they cannot possibly be suffering from a mental health condition.
Just because someone appears to be functioning well in no way lessens the potential seriousness of a mental health condition.
Many people who are suffering from mental health issues can function normally with a proper treatment plan. Others manage to hide their condition (sometimes with profound effort) from co-workers, acquaintances, and even close friends and family members.
Depression is different from normal feelings of sadness because it’s more intense, lasts longer and affects most every aspect of a sufferer’s life. It also includes other symptoms, such as thoughts of self-harm and loss of interest in what were once enjoyable activities.
Assuming mental health conditions are the same thing as having a bad day can lead to embarrassment and shame, which in turn make it much more difficult for people with mental health issues to reach out for help.
If someone you know confides in you that they are struggling, believe them and offer your support. If you yourself are having trouble believing or admitting that you are suffering from a mental health condition, don’t minimize what you are experiencing.
5. Most people with a mental issue or condition can get well on their own without professional help.
Professional help is important and there are evidence-based treatments that work for many of these conditions. The first step is finding help. If you are struggling, there is likely a treatment or combination of treatments that will work for you.
Self-care also can benefit one’s mental health. Activities such as meditation, yoga, exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and a fulfilling social life can all have a positive effect on one’s physical and psychological state.
However, it is important to remember that many people with mental health issues may be severely depleted of the personal resources required to focus on self-care. It is also possible to do everything “right” and still require additional treatment and help.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition, it is not your fault. It is not a failure or a sign of weakness to seek help. You are not alone, and there is hope.