Despite the fact that nearly 1 billion people are living with at least one mental health illness globally, the topic of mental health remains widely misunderstood. However, becoming more informed can help put that to an end.
Here are 5 of the most common myths and misconceptions about mental health, busted.
Mental Health Illness is a Choice
Thinking that people with mental health issues are just looking for attention is a common yet incredibly damaging stigma that’s often perpetuated by popular culture. Mental health conditions do not discriminate — they affect people from all walks of life, regardless of their age, gender, job status, or income. It is also not a choice to have a mental illness: why would anyone want to struggle by choice?
Just like any major illness, mental health conditions are caused by a myriad of factors. And many are typically beyond a person’s control. Anything from your genes, traumatic childhood experiences, stressful life events like losing a loved one or being in a car accident, and even chemical imbalances in the brain can make you more likely to develop a mental health disorder.
Only ‘Crazy’ Or ‘Weak’ People Go to Therapy
You might think no one believes this tired stereotype anymore. But sadly, that’s not the case. A 2020 survey by One Poll with over 2,000 volunteers reported that nearly half (47 percent) of participants believe seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. Yet, ironically, only a quarter of respondents (27 percent) had never been to therapy in their lifetime.
Going to therapy doesn’t mean that you’re ‘crazy’ or weird. On the contrary, hundreds of millions of people seek help from professional mental health providers each year to address any number of concerns — most of the time with great success.
Yes, a lot of people who go to therapy do have mental health conditions, but that also doesn’t mean that they’re ‘crazy,’ ‘mad,’ or ‘disturbed.’ These labels have been used for decades to stigmatize people with mental illness and have proven to be significant barriers to seeking and accessing mental healthcare.
People Diagnosed With Depression Lay in Bed All Day
A variation of the “people with mental illness are weak” is that people with depression are lazy. Depression is a mental health disorder that can take a lot of different forms. It’s true some people with depression feel exhausted and lack energy, so it’s not technically wrong to think that depression equals lethargy. But laziness is a voluntary state (i.e., you choose not to get up from the couch right now), whereas lethargy is a symptom experienced by over 90% of people with major depressive disorder.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is Just a Quirky Personality Trait
Raise your hand if you’ve ever said or heard someone saying, “I’m so OCD!” while cleaning a room or running back to the door to check if it’s locked. One of the greatest misconceptions about OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is that it’s just a quirky personality trait of “neat freaks” that love to clean or are afraid of germs. This is very untrue, though.
OCD is a fairly common mental health condition that causes a pattern of uncontrollable, recurrent thoughts (obsessions) that lead to repetitive and unreasonable behaviors (compulsions). In most cases, people with OCD are actually able to realize that what they’re thinking or doing is irrational. But trying to stop or fight their obsessions often interferes with their daily activities and can cause severe distress.
Current estimates are that approximately 1 in 40 U.S adults has OCD, making the condition more prevalent than common disorders like celiac and inflammatory bowel disease. However, OCD is a heterogeneous condition, meaning that it can manifest very differently from one person to the next. Sure, a fixation on orderliness and cleanliness may be a common compulsion of OCD, but it’s not the only one — and not everyone with OCD has it.
Other obsessions and compulsions that people with OCD might struggle with include:
Fear of saying something inappropriate or obscene
- A need to have material items arranged in a specific way
- Fear of hurting themselves or someone else
- Unwanted or forbidden thoughts involving taboo topics, like sex or religion
- Counting items or repeating certain phrases a specific number of times
- Arranging, aligning, or organizing objects in a specific way
- Hiding objects they could use to hurt themselves or someone else
- Touching something a set number of times
People with mental health disorders are violent and unstable
Today’s media seems to be fixated on emphasizing a supposed link between mental illness and violence. As a result, whenever we read news stories about particularly disturbing crimes, there’s often the not-so-subtle suggestion that the perpetrator was “ill” or “mentally deranged.” But the truth is that mental health conditions play no part in the majority of violent crimes committed at any given time.
By far the most common crimes in the U.S are theft, followed by burglary, and motor vehicle theft. And evidence shows that poverty, parental neglect, low self-esteem, and substance abuse — not mental illness — are among the top reasons people break the law.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that someone with mental health issues cannot be violent. But most of the time, if a person has a severe mental health condition, they are also more likely to have other risk factors for violent behavior, like poverty, living in a high-crime neighborhood, and higher drug and alcohol consumption.
To Wrap Things Up
We’ve seen tremendous advances over the last few decades when it comes to destigmatizing mental health. Just a few years ago, the general assumption was that topics like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders were better kept private. Now, it’s standard for celebrities and other famous personalities to open up about their struggles with mental health in an effort to motivate others to also seek help.
But if we’re being honest, we still have a long way to go if we want to normalize mental illness the way physical illness is.
Paying attention to language is a great way to start. Keep in mind the words that we choose have a powerful effect on how we view and approach mental health conditions. Avoid perpetuating stereotypical terms like “crazy,” “weak,” “weird,” or “lazy” when describing someone with mental health issues. And most importantly, treat people with respect and compassion.
Nobody should suffer in silence. If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, reach out for help! It may be difficult at first, but with proper treatment and support, it’s entirely possible to lead a happy, functional life.
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.