5 Top Mental Health Myths

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Get the truth about what it's like to live with mental illness.

Hi, I’m Elizabeth Shaw, Executive Editor of HealthCentral.com

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, HealthCentral is clearing up a few of the biggest myths that affect people with mental illness.

Number 1: You can just snap out of it. When someone breaks a leg, do you expect him to just snap out of the pain? Nope. It’s the same with mental illness: People can’t just decide to start feeling better. Conditions like depression, anxiety and bipolar are real disorders that require real treatment with qualified professionals. While scientists don’t know exactly what causes mental illness, most believe that it results from biochemical changes in the brain. These neurochemical changes are not something that go away on their own.  If you’re struggling, know you’re not to blame for symptoms.

Number 2: Taking medication is a sign of weakness. Taking medication means you’re taking charge of your health. While not everyone with a mental illness needs meds, many do. For instance, about 25 million Americans have been taking antidepressants for at least two years, according to the American Pharmacists Association. Plus, for most mental health disorders, a prescription is only part of the picture. It’s also crucial to work with a therapist who can help you identify triggers and develop specific skills and strategies to help manage your symptoms. Not seeking or following through on your treatment can have serious repercussions. Case in point:  People with serious mental illness are increased risk for developing other chronic illnesses, including heart disease and cancer.

Number 3: People with mental illness can’t be successful. Untrue! There are loads of highly successful people in the world who also happen to have a mental illness, including everyone from mega-celebs like Oprah, who’s battled PTSD and anxiety, to World Series champion Ben Zobrist. Depending on the severity of the illness, yes, some might have to adjust their expectations of what success means. But here’s the thing about success: YOU get to define what that means and how you get there. Be proactive with your treatment. Set goals. And live YOUR best life.

Number 4: Everyone is a little mentally ill. You might think that’s true given how frequently people talk about how “OCD they are” or how they “practically had a panic attack during their last work presentation.” But the truth is, life is full of stressful situations that make us nervous, sad, or worried…sometimes for days or weeks at a time. But being uber-organized or having a rough patch isn’t the same as having a true mental illness. Mental disorders, especially when they’re not adequately managed, seriously interfere with people’s daily lives. And when we toss around these phrases without really thinking about what they mean, we can do something none of us intend: Belittle and insult the people who actually live with these disorders day in and day out.

Number 5: The same mental disorder looks the same on all people. Actually, they can vary a lot from person to person. For instance, with OCD, one person’s symptoms may center around intrusive, disturbing thoughts while another may compulsively need to check locks, pray, or repetitively count. Not everyone with depression cries or feels sad—sometimes, it manifests through irritability or misplaced anger. There’s no one-size-fits-all in the world of mental health. What matters most is making sure you get the help you need.

To learn more about depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, and OCD, visit www.healthcentral.com/article/mental-health-myths.