Myths about Mental Health

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:

“I’m weak.”

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.

“I’m crazy.”

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.

My Experience with Social Anxiety and Alcoholism

When people think about social anxiety, they usually imagine someone cooped up in their apartment, too afraid to leave, nauseous at the thought of passing someone in the hallway. It’s true that social anxiety can sometimes look like this, but it’s not the whole picture.

For some people, like me, social anxiety can look like dancing in a crowd of sweaty people with a drink in hand. Like opening a third bottle of wine at your sister’s bridal shower. Like laying in bed with a headache, wondering if you’re dying, if all your friends hate you or if you did anything loathsome you can’t remember the night before.

These images are opposite sides of the same coin, though we don’t often realize it unless we’ve experienced it ourselves. Though social anxiety can drive sufferers to avoid social situations, it can also lead them to self-medicate in hopes of coping. It’s a dangerous cycle, and women are at an increased risk of getting trapped.

Anxiety can cause physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, heightened pulse and difficulty breathing. It can also lead to, frankly, pretty weird behavior. With social anxiety, some of the most banal things in the word feel terrifying — such as, in my case, standing in line at the grocery store, answering the doorbell or opening a text message.

At the heart of social anxiety rests a fear of being judged.

As a persistent phobia, this fear can get in the way of friendships, careers and ambitions, and women are two times more likely than men to develop an anxiety disorder.

Women’s predisposition to anxiety may be a result of biological differences. Hormones and higher sensitivity to chemicals responsible for stress could play a part. However, I believe social influences may play a role as well.

On average, women face greater pressure than men to meet certain standards. For example, society expects women to exhibit qualities like kindness, compassion and sociability. Women can also feel pressured to meet what are arguably high beauty standards. For some women, these pressures culminate into a perpetual fear of being deemed unworthy. With so much pressure to appear friendly, caring and compliant, some women might attempt to mask social anxiety rather than address it.

Alcohol can hide social anxiety.

As many people know, alcohol can temporarily lower inhibitions and allow users to feel relaxed, which is why partying isn’t necessarily incompatible with social anxiety. In these spaces, alcohol can temporarily relieve symptoms of social anxiety, allowing people like me to socialize without feeling nervous or uncomfortable.

Considering the effects of alcohol, it makes sense that anxiety disorders and alcoholism coincide. Around 20% of those with social anxiety also suffer from alcohol dependence. As the body becomes more tolerant of alcohol, it takes more and more to feel its relaxing effects, so it’s easy for an indulgence to become a crutch really quickly.

For women that suffer from social anxiety, alcohol abuse can be particularly dangerous. Research suggests that women become dependent more quickly than men. Women also risk health consequences like organ damage and poisoning from lower doses of alcohol. As a form of self-medication, alcohol comes with a scary number of side-effects.

Excessive alcohol use kills about 88,000 people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It hurts me to think how many of those deaths could have been avoided with proper mental health treatment.

It might sound like a cliché, but the first step to getting better is realizing the problem. It took me a while to do that, but eventually, I did.

Overcoming alcohol dependence requires people to understand the roots of the issue — in my case, it was social anxiety.

Here’s the good news: self-medicating with alcohol isn’t the only way to treat social anxiety. Therapy and medication both provide effective treatments, and support groups — like the one I joined at home — can help as well.

Learning to socialize without alcohol can feel like re-learning how to walk for some people, but it’s seriously worth it — believe me.  I swapped nightclubs for book clubs out of necessity. But what I realized along the way is that it’s possible to meet people who support you despite your anxiety, and who remind you there’s no pressure to be perfect.

How Probiotics Have Helped Me Feel Healthier

Many of us have heard about the health benefits of probiotics, but are the stories true? 

I struggled for a long time with frequent bowel movement problems, as well as bouts of cramping and crushing headaches. I was eventually diagnosed with IBS, and my doctor recommended I begin taking a regular probiotic supplement.

Within weeks, my intestinal symptoms, as well as my head pain, abated tremendously. I truly feel these supplements helped me get my life back. Once I began incorporating probiotics into my diet, they helped just about every system in my body work more smoothly.

Boost Metabolism

I’ve noticed since I started taking probiotics that I actually have an easier time maintaining a healthy weight. At first, the connection wasn’t clear, and it seemed especially weird since they had cleared up my tummy problems and I was therefore back to eating more again. But I began researching it and, indeed, there is some sort of connection between metabolism and probiotics. 

While the exact connection is still not fully understood, recent studies have shown that probiotics help to reverse the weight gain that seems to creep up on us as we age due to our slowing metabolism.

Improve Overall Gut Health

Probiotics are perhaps best known for improving gut health. The value of this cannot be understated, as millions of people suffer from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome that impact their overall quality of life.

I went through a period of time where I was literally afraid to eat. Every time I ate pretty much anything, my stomach started cramping as though I had really bad gas or period cramps. But since it wasn’t just gas or period cramps, there was really no way to calm the pain at the time. Unlike with period cramps, my body wasn’t responding to any over-the-counter painkillers. I basically had to wait for it to pass, and it made me fear eating.

After I started taking a regular probiotic, I noticed a clear difference in the amount of pain I felt after eating. It decreased significantly and is sometimes not there at all.

If you have IBS or something similar, you should be discussing it with a doctor. However, for me, probiotics were a great place to start. Probiotics help to maintain the correct balance of healthy bacteria in your small and large intestines, so they can help aid digestion. There is also evidence that probiotics can help ward off certain foodborne illnesses such as salmonella because they help the gut build a protective film to combat illnesses.

Maintaining a Healthy Vagina

I learnt that adding probiotics to your diet can also help your vaginal health. This is because, just like your stomach, your vagina requires the correct balance of healthy bacteria. Probiotics create a slightly acidic environment in your vagina that helps ward off infection.

Interestingly enough, I was first told to take a probiotic years back, before I started experiencing IBS. I had a simple bacterial infection that some antibiotics helped clear up, but I was told to take a probiotic in the weeks following to get my pH back on track. It did seem to help, as the situation resolved itself. I had no idea back then how important probiotics would end up being to my health later in life.

Women who frequently suffer from yeast infections can help stave them off by adding a daily probiotic supplement. If you’re trying to get pregnant, adding probiotics could help boost your chances by creating an environment conducive for getting the sperm to the egg.

Boost Mood

Recent studies have shown that your stomach and your brain are more intricately connected than previously thought. Some researchers believe that mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can be exacerbated by an unhealthy digestive system. By bringing the stomach back into balance, you get a mood boost as well.

This is just my experience, and if you’re worried about your health you should talk to a doctor or health professional.

But take it from me – it’s worth researching how your diet could support your own health and wellbeing. I’m big on holistic health, and there are so many things out there to try!

Why Everyone’s Talking About Jameela Jamil & I Weigh

You may have heard Jameela Jamil’s name recently. Maybe you’re already one of the 145,000 followers of @i_weigh, her Instagram post turned social media movement currently sweeping the internet.

In Britain, where the actress, tv presenter, radio presenter, activist and writer is from, she’s been on screens, in magazines, on podcasts and on the radio talking about why and how she wants to change the conversation around how we, as people, define our worth. And it seems that maybe, just maybe, what she’s doing might be working. Things might actually be changing.

It all started in response to a post on her Instagram feed. Jamil saw an image of the Kardashian family, each of whom had their weight in kilograms written over their body. The caption invited followers to comment on the Kardashians’ weight and compare to their own. Scrolling through the thousands of comments underneath from despairing, self-hating young women, Jamil was enraged and incredulous, and decided to post a photo documenting her own ‘weight’:

 

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Jameela Jamil didn’t ask anyone to do anything. She posted the photo simply because she was annoyed and fed up. It turns out that thousands of other people were annoyed and fed up too.

So many people sent Jamil their own version of her photo that she had to create a whole Instagram account to showcase them all. Women, and some men, have sent photos of themselves with all of the things they value and love about themselves written over the top. It is, in Jamil’s words, a “museum of self-love”, a place where people can “feel valuable and see how amazing we are, and look beyond the flesh on our bones.”

 

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The speed with which Jamil’s photo has grown into a full-blown body positivity movement is a testament to the intensity of our collective dissatisfaction with the toxicity that surrounds us and dictates how we view ourselves.

Nobody wants to feel awful about their body. Nobody wants to hate themselves.

Nobody wants to see magazine page after tv advert after billboard after Instagram post of female bodies that look nothing like those of any of the human women we know in real life. Nobody wants to feel self-disgust when they eat a chocolate biscuit. Nobody wants to hear a friend say that they’ve already eaten lunch and know that they’re lying.

We don’t want the narrative we’re being served, and yet it has become impossible to reject or avoid. Young people – young women in particular – grow up marinating in toxicity until it has seeped so deeply into our bones and hearts that it can no longer be washed off.

But now there’s Jameela Jamil. She’s appeared like a big breath of air, holding nothing back, refusing to be airbrushed, shouting and swearing and shining her light on the injustice of how women women continue to be represented, valued and treated in our society: “it’s so upsetting, it feels like such a betrayal against women. I will not be part of it and I will not stop calling it out when I see it.”

What she’s offering is a wake up call to the media and to all of us consuming it. What she’s saying is that this is not ok, it’s damaging all of us, and it has to change. What she’s already proven is how many people are ready and desperate for the change.

Want more? As well as @i_weigh, you can follow @jameelajamilofficial on Instagram & @jameelajamil on Twitter (do it, she’s hilarious). You can watch this interview for Channel 4’s Ways to Change the World podcast, and read this interview with Stylist. If you’re in the UK, you can also listen to Jamil’s recent documentary about consent – The New Age of Consent – created for BBC Radio 4.