Mental health awareness, as I’ve said in a previous post, is a pretty recent thing. In fact, understanding of mental health has been persistently pretty terrible for a long time. Things are getting better now, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
So today, we’re going to go over some common misconceptions and set the record straight. Fasten your seat belts!
(TRIGGER WARNINGS FOR THIS ARTICLE: I discuss self harm and suicide. Please prioritise your own safety and comfort and close the article if these are topics that might trigger you).
Misconception 1: there’s a ‘look’ to depression
Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes mental health issues are visible in a person’s demeanour. Sometimes you might be able to outwardly tell that someone is having a really hard time. But a lot of the time, those suffering from mental health problems are very good at wearing a mask to protect those they care about from any worries about them. Telling someone they ‘don’t look depressed’ is probably one of the most dismissive and harmful things you can do – and yes, a doctor has said this to me before, and probably many others too.
Mental health, like aspects of physical health, also fluctuates. You can have your highs and lows which aren’t representative of the whole picture. So never judge someone’s mental state solely from how they express themselves outwardly. Because this very rarely tells the whole story.
Misconception 2: people with mental health problems are ‘weak’ and need to try harder
(TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE)
Ooooof this one stings. No, it isn’t true. In fact, people suffering from mental health problems are probably some of the strongest people you’ll find. Sometimes, if they have suicidal thoughts, they are fighting a battle just to convince themselves to stay alive, to find a reason to hold on. That doesn’t sound like weakness to me! Mental health issues are really super tough, and no-one truly suffering from them wants to be – depression isn’t a mood board or an Instagram filter, but a very very tough reality to endure.
If you are depressed, do not let someone tell you that you’re a delicate snowflake who can’t handle the realities of life. You’re not. You are a very strong person trying to thrive in less than ideal circumstances, and you can get through this.
Misconception 3: mentally ill people are dangerous and violent
(TRIGGER WARNING: SELF HARM)
Mental health is full of lovely misconceptions isn’t it? No, people suffering from mental health issues are not more likely to be violent or dangerous. In certain circumstances, suffering from a mental health problem might lead to certain dangerous behaviours, to harming yourself and others for example. But, as Mind explains, ‘the most common mental health problems have no significant link to violent behaviour. The proportion of people living with a mental health problem who commit a violent crime is extremely small’.
As Mind goes on to explain, there are reasons why people might be violent, drug and alcohol problems being a frequent factor. But even when this is the case, often these behaviours do not reflect the true person and are rather a sign of a person in intense pain.
Misconception 4: young people don’t suffer from mental health problems
Medical professionals are often unwilling to diagnose young people with mental health disorders and prescribe them drugs to help, because through puberty the body changes so much. There’s a moody teenager stereotype for a reason, after all. This doesn’t mean, however, that young people can never be depressed or anxious. Particularly in this day and age, where achievement at school is tracked very closely and in specific ways, and social media is so central, young people suffer from a lot of mental health issues.
As it can be more difficult to access mental health care as a child or teenager, it is extremely important to listen to those young people who are suffering. Be open, be attentive, and make them feel heard. There are specific charities that work with young people. The UK’s The Mix text service for under 25s is fantastic.
Misconception 5: only certain types of people can suffer from mental health problems
(TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE)
This is a broad one, so let me take the chance to explain. There are many misconceptions in society that people with a certain privilege cannot suffer from mental health issues – often this is said about the wealthy, for example. Whilst living paycheck to paycheck may not be something that factors into a wealthy person’s mental health problems, it doesn’t mean they are exempt from these issues full stop. They might have a stressful job, or their home life might be less than ideal – and even if none of these apply, it doesn’t mean they can’t have a mental health problem. Because there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health.
Equally, gender expectations in the past meant that men were less likely to be seen as having mental health problems. This is because, whilst women have historically been associated with such concepts as hysteria, men have consistently been viewed as tougher and more resilient.
In fact, the truth is far different. Perhaps because of the expectations placed on men, men often suffer from mental health issues and feel like they cannot speak out about them, for fear of judgement by society. A terrifying 75% of suicides in the UK are by men. Take a look at the CALM Zone website for more info.
And finally, misconception 6: I have it better than most, so my problem doesn’t matter
No, no, no, no and no. Whilst recognising that you have a certain privilege is a wonderful thing in a lot of circumstances, when it comes to mental health it means we often put off dealing with the issues we have because we feel like we have it better than others.
Just because someone else has bad problems, it doesn’t mean that yours aren’t also affecting your life in a negative way. You are just as worthy of help as the next person. Comparison in these circumstances will only make you feel guilty, and this is the enemy of all recovery efforts.
Never ever think that your mental health problems are unimportant. You can recognise that other people have their issues and still be worthy of support.
I hope this post has helped you to understand mental health a little better. It’s such a large and complex topic, and learning about harmful misconceptions is a really fantastic way to improve the way we talk about and deal with mental health issues.