I’ve lived with mental illness for over twenty years and that means I’ve also lived with the stigma. The mental illness myths that stem from that stigma have followed me like a black mark that just wouldn’t budge.
When creating my blog I knew that I wanted to do my part to fight it. So I went and found the eight most common myths about mental illness and busted them!
Why is there a stigma around mental illness?
So why is there a stigma around mental illness? To answer that question you have to go back centuries to a time when science was barely a blip on the radar. Because of this, there were many things that people didn’t understand and so they would fear them.
What happens if you’re scared of something? You avoid it right? Or you try and get rid of it (like the massive spider on my wall last night!)
People feared mental illness and from this fear came the myths around today. These misconceptions or ‘myths’ have stuck around to this day and are pretty much everywhere.
One example of this is films.
From the violent and deranged killers seen in slasher movies (Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, Jason…need I go on?) to films that portray mental illness as minor and easily cured
(Wait…you mean I could be cured just by falling in love? Really?? Yeah… nope)
What are the most common myths around mental illness?
There are A LOT of myths out there around mental illness. Yet some of them pop up time and again. These are some of the most common myths I’ve come across over the years.
Myth #1 People with mental illness are violent
It’s an unfortunate fact that in many people’s minds mental illness and violence are intertwined. Part of this is due to the portrayal of violent mentally ill characters in films and tv shows.
But you also see evidence of this misconception regularly on the news, with reports often focusing on mental illness as the reason for a person’s violent behaviour.
The truth is actually quite different. The 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey states that out of over 530 homicides committed in the UK in 2013, only 51 were committed by someone with a mental illness.
Surprised? Well, that’s not all. Studies also show that people with mental illness are five times more likely to be the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator.
I reckon this myth is well and truly busted!
Myth #2 Mental illness is rare
I think that the reason many people believe mental illness to be rare is that so many sufferers remained silent. I struggled with my depression and anxiety for years before finally feeling brave enough to talk about it.
I’m not the only one.
For many people, fear of being stigmatised kept them silent unfortunately adding to the belief that mental illness is rare.
Contrary to this myth mental illness isn’t rare at all.
The Mental Health Foundation’s 2016 Fundamental Facts About Mental Health shows that 1 in 6 people in the UK has a mental illness.
That’s 17% of the population. It’s more common than asthma! That means that you’re bound to know at least one person who has a mental health problem if not more.
With so many people having mental health problems I think we can all agree that this myth is busted!
Myth #3 People with mental illness can’t hold down a job
I’m not sure where this myth started but I think it’s likely that this developed because people with a mental illness were traditionally isolated from society. No matter how far you go back in history people with mental health problems were kept separate from the rest of the community whether it was in a monastery, prison or ‘lunatic’ asylum.
Because of this they obviously couldn’t contribute to society by working.
It could also be because some people have lacked support in their job and so felt they had to leave.
This has certainly happened to me with a few different employers over the years. Some employers refused to accept that mental illness was like any other ongoing illness (such as diabetes) and could require support.
Regardless of where this myth came from the evidence shows that it is simply not true. The Chief Medical Officer’s Annual Report of 2013 shows that over 60% of people with mental illness in the UK are employed.
Yup, I’d say this myth is busted!
Myth #4 People with mental illness are weak
Of all the myths on this list, this one gets to me the most. I’ve spent a hell of a lot of my life feeling weak because I couldn’t just ‘get over it’.
It all boils down to this… People struggle to empathise about something they don’t understand or have never experienced.
I had a friend once who just couldn’t understand that depression made me too ill to work.
To her, there was nothing stopping me from getting up and getting on with stuff. She even said to me that it’s not as if I had a broken leg stopping me from moving around.
Since she had never experienced depression she assumed that what I had was the same as how she felt when she felt ‘depressed sometimes’. It’s, unfortunately, become normal to use mental illness terms to describe everyday things.
You hear things like ‘I am so OCD’ when a person is referring to liking things in order. (OCD is a hell of a lot more complex and challenging than just having to have things kept tidy!)
Another one is describing yourself as depressed one day just because you’re feeling a bit down. The problem with is that it makes the mental illness seem like it’s something you can just move on from. If someone doesn’t just get on with it or snap out of it then they must not be as strong right?
The idea that only weak people have a mental illness or that someone with a mental illness is weak is total crap.
It’s been scientifically proven that mental illness literally changes your brain. It affects areas responsible for things like mood, decision making and memory. Not only that but there’s a whole host of physical symptoms to battle through on top of the emotional ones.
Add the fact that a person’s genetics, life experiences and biological factors can contribute to mental health problems and it’s pretty obvious that mental illness is not something you can just get over.
On behalf of everyone out there battling mental illness, I declare this myth busted!
Myth #5 There’s nothing you can do to support someone with mental illness
One of the hardest things for me to try and change was how I would behave when I was struggling. Without even realising it I would just withdraw from everyone including friends and family.
I’d stop keeping in touch with people or responding to my social media. I basically lived in my own little bubble.
I’ve since learned that withdrawing from others and isolating yourself is something a lot of people with mental illness do.
It’s a pretty clever tactic if you think about it. By making you feel that you should be on your own mental illness effectively cuts you off from any possible help and support.
This can often leave loved ones feeling helpless and that they can’t do anything to help. Not only that but family and friends may also have no idea how they can help. It’s human instinct to try and ‘fix’ whatever’s wrong and it can be difficult to know what to do if there is no clear sign of something to fix.
However, there are things that you can do to be there for someone struggling with mental illness. It can be as simple as just checking in on them from time to time to giving them emotional support.
That’s another myth well and truly busted! We’re on a roll 🙂
Myth #6 You can’t recover from mental illness
To be honest I’m not really sure how this one started. It could be because it’s not always possible to prevent the mental health problem from coming back.
But this doesn’t mean that you can never recover. Mental health conditions are treatable and many people can recover completely with the right treatment.
Even people who experience mental health problems throughout their lives can, with the right support and treatment, continue to live their life. There are of course times when treatment doesn’t work and the person doesn’t recover but this can be said for a lot of other health conditions.
There are a lot of people out there right now who have either recovered completely or have their mental health problems managed and so work, have families and all the other stuff that life is about.
Another myth bites the dust. Busted!
Myth #7 Only adults get mental illness
Children and teenagers go through a lot of changes both physically and emotionally in order to develop into adults. Because many of these changes involve things like hormones many people mistakenly believe that signs of mental illness in young people is actually just those changes happening.
Whilst this is true to a certain extent (puberty can cause mood swings for example) it doesn’t mean that they can’t also suffer from a mental illness.
There can be quite a few changes in a child and adolescents life as well such as moving up to secondary school, taking a variety of exams and changes in family and friendships.
Since many mental illnesses can be triggered by the stress of changes it’s hardly surprising that many people actually begin developing mental health problems before becoming an adult.
The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Survey, published in 2018, found that 1 in 8 5-19-year-olds had at least one mental illness when the survey was carried out in 2017.
And that’s just in England!
I think it’s pretty clear that it’s not just adults. So, myth busted!
Myth #8 Mental illness can’t be prevented
There are many different factors that can cause mental illness and some of those are out of our control. We don’t get to choose our genes for example nor do we get to decide our family history.
But this doesn’t mean that we can’t prevent mental illness. The thing to remember is that even if you have a family history of mental illness does not mean you are automatically going to suffer from mental health problems regardless of how you live your life.
A lot of different factors can affect whether someone has a mental illness and some of those can be worked on to help prevent mental illness. In a nutshell, there are ways that you can reduce the risk of developing mental health problems.
Working to prevent mental illness can be done on communities as a whole or on an individual basis and so methods vary.
Educating people on the warning signs and risk factors, for example, means that they will recognise these and get help to deal with them before they develop into mental illness. Parents can do this with their children by not ignoring the warning signs and seeking help early.
Working to prevent mental illness can happen in a variety of places such as the workplace and at home and at different stages in a persons life.
Mental illness is therefore preventable making this myth busted!
What can we do to help bust the myths out there?
So I’ve already said that these myths are still, unfortunately, a huge part of our culture but I really believe that it won’t always be that way. We’ve already seen how people coming forward to tell their stories has begun to change people’s perception of mental illness.
This just shows that it’s possible to one day put an end to the stigma and myths for good.
But how can we help make this change happen? There are so many ways that you can help fight the stigma. It can be something as simple as showing loved one’s information to help them understand mental illness better.
Another way is to actually spend time around people with mental health problems (if you’re someone who doesn’t have a mental illness yourself)
For more ways to help in the battle against stigma read my post Help End Mental Illness Stigma For Good!
What do you think? Are people’s perceptions of mental illness changing? Let me know in the comments below.
Also, comment below if you’ve ever helped bust any mental illness myths. I’d love to hear about it!
Don’t forget to share this post if you liked it (so I know to write more like it!)