The mental health community has long been plagued with false and harmful labels simply due to a lack of awareness and empathy; uneducated “truths” about mental health that were commonly believed as recently as the twentieth century don’t hold up as well today, and likely contributed to the overwhelmingly negative stigma around mental illnesses. Unfortunately, the rapid spread of misinformation over social media has only worsened these unjust preconceptions. To combat this dangerous spread of ignorance, America recently began educating its younger generation on mental health. In 2018, a bill was put into place, requiring all schools in New York to implement mental health awareness into their curriculum from K-12, making it one of the few states in America so far to have enforced mandatory mental health education (Lubell and Snow, “More states requiring mental health education by law”). This post will go over many of the common misconceptions that people may have about mental health, its causes, its effects, and solutions in the hopes of building a more positive and educated view towards the community.
Myth: Mental health issues are uncommon
Mental health issues are extremely common. The World Health Organization reported in 2001 that approximately “one in four people” are affected by mental disorders “at some point in their lives” and that currently “450 million people” suffer from those disorders (“The World Health Report 2001: Mental Disorders affect one in four people”). The most common of these in America include depression and anxiety, which each affect “16.1 million” and “40 million” adults in the United States (“Anxiety & Depression Association of America”).
Given these alarmingly large numbers, it may be that one of your close friends or family may be suffering from these disorders, so take the steps to reach out and regularly check up on them. You can seek out advice on how to provide support here.
Myth: People with mental health issues cannot function in a work or school environment
Though mental health issues can act as a barrier between a person and productivity, one’s mental condition does not immediately define their capability to complete work. We should not be so quick to shut someone down simply for something out of their control. This myth is especially harmful considering that American society tends to base someone’s value off of their contribution to their community and cause people to deem the mentally ill as unimportant. This often results in people being reluctant to get the help they need and the exclusion of the mentally ill from the workplace. The World Health Organization addressed and countered this workplace discrimination by proclaiming that “The cost to society of excluding people with [mental disorders] from taking an active part in community life is high. This exclusion often leads to diminished productivity and losses in human potential,” (“Nations for Mental Health report on mental health and work in 2000”).
As a solution, school and work environments could take bigger steps to ensure their people are provided with the resources and support that will help their mental health thrive. The proper treatment can result in “increased productivity [and] lower absenteeism” (“Mental Health Myths and Facts”). Rather than excluding people due to false stereotypes, we should work towards supportive environments that support everyone’s mental health.
Myth: People choose to be mentally ill
Oftentimes, in response to hearing about someone with a mental disorder, people respond with negative comments to discredit their struggle. Phrases such as “eating disorders are a choice” and “addiction proves you are weak” not only are false, but also invalidate someone’s suffering.
Many external factors contribute to someone’s development of a mental health issue, such as “biological factors,” “injury,” “life experiences” and “family history of mental health problems,” (“Mental Health Myths and Facts”). A mental illness is not simply a result of a lack of proper willpower, but can be a result of factors completely out of our control.
Myth: People with mental illnesses are dangerous
The US National Library of Medicine National says, “Compared to other sociodemographic and historical factors, the contribution of mental illness to the overall risk of violence in society as a whole is relatively small,” (Rueve and Welton, “Violence and Mental Illness”). This suggests that mental illness and violence do not go hand in hand as often as people think.
Although there is sometimes a correlation between violence and mental illnesses, it is not as common as advertised, and the link has been exaggerated thanks to the dramaticized coverage of the media. News outlets frequently amplify any occasion of violence because they are aware of the attention it garners, which holds no exception to mentally beings, potentially leading to the widespread belief that mental illness comes with violence. Steven Pinker argues in his article “The Media Exaggerates Negative News. This Distortion Has Consequences” that people’s views are ruled by the tone of the media they consume, such as gory news headlines. He points out that “because tornadoes make for better television,” people rank tornadoes higher than asthma in cause of death. This phenomenon can be explained by the idea that “whenever a memory [appears often in the] mind […] for reasons other than frequency—because it is recent, vivid, gory, distinctive, or upsetting—people will overestimate how likely it is in the world.”