As a psychologist, I routinely hear many damaging myths about mental health. Some people hold myths to be truths, which leads them to suffer alone. Although this saddens me, I also have the advantage of hearing these myths and debunking them. Uncovering these false ideas can lead to more honest conversations and much-needed treatment.
Here are some of the most common myths patients share with me:
Mental illness is not a weakness in character. We all experience a spectrum of emotions, everything from feeling highly emotional to feeling numb. It might be because of an accumulation of circumstances we’ve experienced in the past, our biological make up, or both. It is in fact a show of strength to express your emotions and seek help you need.
1 in 4 people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, and the rate is likely higher due to people’s fears of sharing their mental health concerns. Life is hard and we’re human, therefore we react.
“Other people don’t feel like this.”
How would you know this? We really have no idea of how other people react. Even the people we’re closest with don’t know how we’re really feeling unless we tell them. Why do we assume that everyone reacts the same way? We’re far too different to behave or feel the same in every situation.
“I have to hide my mental illness.”
Of course, this is your decision. Although if you decide to share with someone you trust, you may find that more people can relate with you than you think. They or someone they know may suffer from mental illness. The reality is, there are people who don’t understand and people who do. It’s important to figure out who your trusted loved ones are.
“Medication will turn me into a zombie.”
All medications have side effects. Everyone reacts differently to each medicine based on body chemistry. Some medications cause uncomfortable side effects when you first start taking them. The biggest question to ask yourself, your therapist and your doctor is whether the benefits outweigh the side effects.
“I don’t have enough faith in God. I just need to pray more.”
I know spiritual leaders who suffer from anxiety, depression and other mental health difficulties. Does it mean they don’t have enough faith? Prayer can be powerful. However, have you been able to pray away all of the problems in your life? Do you pray rather than seek medical attention for a physical condition?
“Counseling is for white people.”
People of color tend to have a unique dynamic of stress specifically related to being people of color. Discrimination is real, people hold strange stereotypes about those they perceive as different and people of color are often targets of hate. Have you ever wondered if you didn’t get a job or a promotion because of your ethnicity? Chronic worries such as these accumulate and the build up can be tremendously stressful.
“My family will be upset if they know I’m sharing our private business.”
Every family has its family business. What you’re sharing is your business. You’re talking about how life affects you.
“It’s selfish to take care of myself.”
This is a cultural lie in much of the world, especially amongst girls and women. You deserve to care for yourself and express your desire to be well cared for. Also, you can’t help anyone if we’re sick ourselves.
“I don’t want to express myself in front of others.”
Everything we do is an opportunity to model behavior to others, especially those we care about the most. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to teach our children or partner that emotional expression is healthy?
“My boss will find out I’m talking to a therapist.”
Therapy is highly confidential and there are very few reasons this information would need to be revealed. The first couple of sessions of treatment are spent reviewing confidentiality so that you’re very clear on how it all works.
“Asking people if they are thinking about suicide will cause them to feel suicidal.”
Simply asking this question does not cause someone to become suicidal. In fact, asking about it may open up conversation and potentially save someone’s life. Most countries have a hotline to call if you need support. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call emergency services.
Fight these myths so that they don’t stand in the way of your wellness. Please share with someone who needs to hear the truth about psychological treatment.