6 Mental Health Myths That Are Keeping You Sick!
I’m often baffled when faced with extraordinary ignorance around mental illness. From minor, insensitive comments, to downright dumb-headedness about what it means to have a malfunctioning mental state, it can feel like the world is having a hell of a lot of trouble understanding a single, fundamental truth: anyone who lives with a mental illness didn’t choose it simply by performing or not performing an action.
Most stigma is easily overcome with a little education, a whole lot of patience, and the occasional backhanded bitch slap. Self-stigma, on the other hand, is utterly heartbreaking and I often find myself completely at a loss for what to do about it.
Every so often I come face-to-face with people whose symptoms are so obvious that everyone around them treats them as if it’s simply a part of their personality. Casual conversations start and end with the strange behavior and idiosyncrasies they’ve observed in the person and yet, for a litany of utterly unfair reasons, few people have encouraged them to seek help. In the worst cases, family and friends actively participate in keeping the individual from feeling like it’s okay to get help because they’re wrapped up in their own stigmatic outlook.
Oh her? She just likes things really clean.
Oh him? He’s just a negative person.
Her? Oh, she just has horrible mood swings.
Him? Yeah, he’s always nervous about something.
As an advocate and a sufferer, I often find myself encouraging the fuck out of people to seek treatment. I practically have a windowless van filled with mental health pamphlets as I wander through the world. Many folks do get help because they want their lives to be better, period. It helps, too, that the more they connect with their counterparts, the more they realize that debilitating mood disorders aren’t exclusive to the extras from Shutter Island. In fact, mental illness is, like most illnesses, an asshole that effects every kind of person from every walk of life.
That’s the heart of it, really. The way you define what makes someone a good, lovable, worthy person often doesn’t include someone with significant mental health issues. And why not? It’s one thing if you go to a store, scan the shelves, and intentionally pick out a syringe with a mental illness and plug it in your meaty left ass cheek just for fun. It’s quite another that you have as much control over your illness as a cancer patient has over a tumor. It’s there, it fucking sucks, and you can fight against it like a son of a bitch and still fail to kill it completely.
Many people are genetically predisposed to mental illness, which also means they’ve had to deal with someone in their family whose behavior, as a result of that illness, has left a hard mark on their memory. When you’ve seen someone fall apart or alienate themselves or even hurt the hell out of others, it makes sense that you’d be fucking terrified of being just like them.
If you’re struggling with self-stigma, here’s a few of the biggest bullshit myths around mental health to help you bust through your own barriers:
Bullshit: Therapy is about dissecting your childhood.
Truth: While Hollywood is great at making therapy look like a one stop shop for blaming everything on your mother, the truth is that a good therapist is someone who helps you build, use, and find the tools that you need to lead a healthier life. Have you ever tried to hammer a screw into a wall? Sure, it goes in there eventually, but there’s a whole lot of damage in the process. Finding the right therapist is the like finding your missing screwdriver and once you have it you’ll be able to build the life you want.
Bullshit: Medications will make you appear loopy or drugged out.
Truth: While all medications have side effects, the truth is that anything that makes you appear drugged out is probably not the best dose or medication for you. Everyone’s body is different and some people hit a home run their first time up at the plate while others of us have to strike out a few times on the wrong meds. Pay attention to your body and communicate how medication is or is not effecting you so your doctor can help get it right!
Bullshit: Getting a diagnosis means you’re not “normal” anymore.
Truth: One in four people will be diagnosed with a mental illness. The fact of the matter is that you’re around people all the time who battle their brains and you probably have no idea. I have 3 mental illnesses and I have a great job, healthy hobbies, 2 cute kids and a husband with a rockin’ man beard. Most people who meet me never have any idea. “Normal” is bullshit but so is the idea that a mental illness makes you something else entirely.
Bullshit: If you have a mental illness, you’re going to be just like someone else you know.
Truth: While some symptoms may be the same, the fact of the matter is that your mental health is as unique as your DNA. You don’t have to make the same choices and behave in the same way as anyone else and, if you decide to get help and take care of your health, you’ll likely be the kind of person who strives to ensure others are not negatively impacted by your condition.
Bullshit: Treatment centers are scary and are designed for the craziest of crazies.
Truth: If you’re going in for any kind of psychiatric treatment it’s probably a bit intimidating. I was duly embarrassed my first time and told literally no one in my life. But the truth is that most medical centers are designed with your mental health in mind and while it’s certainly not a trip to Disneyland, it can be a break, a rest, and, most importantly, a place where you can get better in peace.
Bullshit: If you can just figure out a new way to look at things you’ll get better.
Truth: A mental illness is a medical condition. Just like “walking it off” can’t cure a broken bone, thinking happy thoughts can’t cure your illness. Can it help? Abso-fuckin-lutely! CBT therapy, for example, has been life-changing for my day-to-day mental health management. But it’s not a cure.