When putting the ideas for this topic together, I thought this would be an easy one to write. Very straight forward and factual. Putting that theory into practice however, has shown me that these issues go so much deeper. It is so difficult to capture the scope of this phenomenon. The stigma around mental health has improved over the years, but there remains so much misinformation and frankly damaging ideas. I cant cover everything in this article, I would be writing a novel. I’m just going to do my best to discuss some of the most common and most harmful ideas that are still believed today. And I’m sure someone struggling with mental health issues will find no surprises here.
“Mentally ill people are dangerous”
Call me an optimist, but I believe this one is slowly going away. The notion that people with a mental illness are dangerous or unstable is becoming less widespread, but it is still present. People have always been scared of what they don’t understand, its something to do with the human psyche. You can see examples of this everywhere throughout history, and mental illness is not exempt. Especially in cases of schizophrenia, bipolar or even PTSD.
The truth is, the threat a person is likely to impose on another is not dependent on mental health. There are indeed cases where people can be violent and the presence of a mental health issue can make this worse, or be a catalyst for violent behavior. However this is usually only present in extreme cases or where the person has a predisposition for violence. The vast majority of people suffering from an illness like this are no more dangerous than someone dealing with a physical injury. They are functional people with the same morals and principles as the rest of society who are simply doing their best with the cards they were dealt. The fear of difference is a result of ignorance, and thankfully I believe that the knowledge of today is eradicating that fear.
“Mental Illness is uncommon”
Before researching for this piece, I was going to word this myth as ‘mental illness is rare’, but now that doesn’t feel as accurate. Mental illness is not even uncommon, it is everywhere. With depression leading the way, the mental health situation worldwide has been labeled by many as a crisis. When you look at the numbers, you can understand why. An article in 2017 by Our World in Data found a staggering 792 million people worldwide suffering with depression. Another article written in 2020 found that close to 800 thousand people take their own lives each year, with most falling between ages 15 – 29.
These numbers are heartbreaking, and they are on the rise. With the constant increase of stress as housing costs rise, job availability decreases and more pressure is being put on study and careers there is no surprise that our mental states are suffering. Mental illness is everywhere, it is rampant among our youth and not enough is being done about it. Reading these statistics has made me feel sad and angry, and I hope you do too.
“Mental Health is always visible”
When a person is diagnosed with a physical disease, or suffers an injury at work, the effects are visible. It is easy to sympathize with them, and extra care is often given. When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be harder to see where the pain is coming from. A common misconception people have, is that if someone has an illness like depression, it will be easy to see. Maybe they will be sad all the time, you might expect them to cry often. However, as everyone with a mental health issue knows, this is not the case.
Most people who struggle with this kind of issue are still functional people with jobs and families who put on a brave face for their responsibilities. When someone has anxiety, you may not see it until that person is confronted with an anxiety inducing situation. You could work closely with a person suffering from OCD or PTSD and never even realize. In fact, it is very likely that you do. It is this lack of visibility that leads some people to not take mental health issues seriously, or in some cases, to not believe others when they open up. This is incredibly damaging to people, and causes a lot of sufferers to hide their conditions, and in some cases, to not seek help.
We already know that these issues are very common. Let’s not make their lives more difficult by demanding the visibility of their issues. Chances are if you are reading this, you may have experienced mental health issues in your life. If you haven’t, I urge you to understand that some people just won’t ‘look depressed’, and that honestly doesn’t mean anything.
“Mental Health sufferers can pull themselves out of it”
If you suffer from a mental issue, chances are you have heard something similar to this. Often it comes from someone who means well, like a family member who is trying to tell you to be strong. They might be trying to tell you to ‘just get out and do something’ or ‘you will feel better if you try this’. Sometimes it can be more hurtful. Many of us have been told to ‘just get over it, there are people worse off than you’. I can’t think of anything worse that you could say to someone with mental health issues. If they could just get over it, I assure you they would. No one wants to feel depressed, or to have panic attacks. No one wants to struggle with eating disorders or ride the waves of bipolar. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way.
It can be hard for someone to understand how debilitating these illnesses can be, especially if you have never experienced it before. The brain is an incredibly complex structure, and when it gets sick, it can take everything a person has just to get through it. Just like with physical illness, everyone deals with it differently. Some people need to stay busy; others find it best to surrender to the pain and ride it out until the end. Whatever their methods, it is best to simply support and comfort rather than offering advice.
“Mental Health issues are incurable”
This is a tough misconception which can also hold a grain of truth. Some people who suffer from mental health issues are expecting to struggle with them for the rest of their lives. However, most can make great progress towards beating their illnesses. Medical advancements with medications and treatments are improving every day, and maybe it’s the optimist in me, but I believe the future looks very hopeful. Throughout their lives and especially in their early to mid-20s, most people will experience some form of mental health issue. For the majority of them, getting well is a very achievable goal.
Understanding the human mind is an ongoing process, one which has alluded professionals for many years. Right now, we are living in a very exciting time in the field of psychology. New treatments are constantly being developed, and the use of medications is always being refined. Mental illness does not have to be a life sentence, and often isn’t. Encouraging people to seek help and providing them with the best resources to do so is critical, and something that we can all be involved in.
As I said at the start, if I was going to list all the misconceptions about mental health this would probably become a novel. The stigma surrounding this issue is deeply rooted in our society. However, I believe the times are changing, and people are not only becoming more accepting, but more knowledgeable on how serious this health crisis really is. Please, if you or anyone you know is suffering with an illness like this, do not hesitate to seek help. Even if you are worried that maybe its not that severe or you’re just feeling down, there are so many people out there ready to help. You are important, and your mental health is just as much of a priority as your physical.
If you are worried about your mental health or just want more information, please visit these websites:
Australian youth services and counselling
Tons of information and help available, predominantly for depression and bipolar
Australia’s national counselling and referral service for LGBTI people:
Fantastic service for support and treatment of depression