They say you can’t understand something unless you truly experience it. However, when it comes to mental health, although no one but the sufferer truly knows what he or she is feeling, we all have to do a better job of trying to understand it. This is crucial because we are living in a time when mental illness is as common as any other type of illness, be it a problem with your heart, kidneys or bones.
Standing in the way of this goal are the many myths and misconceptions that society still holds about mental health. Even though we’ve come so far in removing the stigma around psychiatric illness, we need to keep pushing for forward progress. One way we can all do that is having a better understanding of the real facts.
To recognize World Mental Health Day this month, let’s bust a few myths.
Myth: Bipolar Disorder is just another name for mood swings.
Fact: Bipolar Disorder is a serious illness with severe mood swings that interfere with one’s daily functioning. Bipolar Disorder also leads to suicide, especially if left untreated. There is an immense risk in not taking mental illnesses seriously or brushing them off. If you or someone you know believes someone is suffering from Bipolar Disorder, it is best to not try and diagnose. Leave the evaluation to the professionals. The best thing a concerned person can do is recommend professional help to the individual suffering. Supportive encouragement goes a long way.
Myth: Once you feel better you can stop taking your psychiatric medication.
Fact: Almost all patients with psychiatric illness need maintenance treatment for a period of time. Sometimes, the course of action for treatment is lifelong in order to prevent relapses and recurrences. The treatment plan is similar to that of diabetes and heart disease patients. There is more risk in immediate succession of medication than in a tapered decline. No one should stop taking their medication unless it is recommended by your physician.
Myth: Psychiatric illness is a result of bad relationships.
Fact: Mental Illness is not caused by bad relationships. Well, they can be—in a sense. All psychiatric illnesses have genetic and environmental components, and bad relationships contribute to those components. Surrounding oneself with negative people can be a factor in the development of psychiatric illness, but it’s is indeed more involved than that.
Myth: Suicide is not a problem in the United States.
Fact: Suicide is a major public health problem. The most important fact to remember about suicide is that it is preventable. Those who choose to get help can mitigate the risk of their illness leading to suicide. There are approximately 123 suicides in the US every single day. If you or someone you know is suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Myth: Treatment for psychiatric illness is a cop-out by weak people.
Fact: Treatment is necessary for those with an illness in order to lead a normal life. A psychiatric illness is like any other medical condition. It takes bravery and strength to ask for help and receive treatment but is well worth it in the long run. You are not weak at all for seeking treatment. It’s a sign of courage and strength.
Myth: All patients with Schizophrenia are dangerous.
Fact: Only a small proportion of patients with schizophrenia are violent, and this is usually only when left untreated. Schizophrenia has many manifestations, and most of them are not severe enough to make someone dangerous. However, it can interfere with daily life and functional relationships and needs to be treated by a mental health professional.
Myth: Talk therapy is just whining about your problems.
Fact: Various types of talk therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), are as effective or more as medications, in the treatment of mild depression and anxiety disorders. It takes immense courage to admit to yourself that you need to seek outside assistance.
Myth: ADHD is a new way to explain bad behavior.
Fact: ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, often persists into adulthood in 40% of cases. The consequences of undiagnosed ADHD affect the lives of millions from childhood into adulthood.
Myth: Depression is just sadness that will go away.
Fact: Depression is a serious medical illness that causes the sufferer to be at-risk for morbidity and mortality. Depression can take a toll on anyone and doesn’t discriminate against fame, money or anything else. Sometimes people who seem to have it all together on the outside can be the ones hurting the most on the inside.
The myths of mental illness cause many individuals to live in a fearful state based on misinformation. The truth is there is nothing to be embarrassed about or feel bad about. You can get help and go on to lead a fulfilling and highly functioning life. There is a light of hope, but sometimes it resides in the distance—beyond the stigma. It’s time for everyone to get educated on the real facts.