Illness of any type, whether physical or mental, can be challenging. Until recent years, a mental illness diagnosis traditionally came with a host of myths, stigmas, and misconceptions, leading individuals to suffer in silence for fear of judgment rather than seek the treatment they need.
Some common myths and misconceptions:
• Mental illness is who you
are as a person.
• Mental illness doesn’t
affect your physical health.
• People with a mental Illness
are dangerous and unstable.
• People with mental illness
can “will” it away if they tried harder.
When you start to look at mental illness from a different perspective, some of those misconceptions can begin to fall away. Just as you are not defined by a physical illness, you are not defined by your mental illness. Yes, it can alter your behavior, much like physical pain can sometimes alter someone’s behavior because they are not at their optimum health, but it does not define who they are.
While the how and why are complex, there is a direct correlation between physical and mental health. The “it’s all in your head” mentality of the past has given way to a realization that mental illness can impact physical health both directly and indirectly. For example, depression can lead to suppressed T-cell responses to viruses, which in turn can lend itself to more frequent illness and longer recovery times.
Labeling someone with a mental illness as “dangerous” or “unstable” is a stereotype based on misinformation or fear, as the vast majority of individuals living with mental illness are not dangerous. Family and friends learning to deal with a mental illness need the support of their loved ones, not the constant fear that they’re afraid or being judged by them.
The perception that mental illness can be
“willed away” is fundamentally flawed.
Most all people want happiness and
health in their life and if will power alone
was enough, very few would be
struggling. You can no easier “will away”
mental illness than you can “will away”
pneumonia or diabetes. There is a
genetic link to developing mental illness
and there are observable neurological
differences in those with mental illness.
What is the solution to the stigma of mental illness? Just as you would see a doctor for bronchitis, treatment for mental illness ought to have the same level of access as any physical ailment. On an individual level, showing empathy to someone struggling may help give them the courage to seek treatment for mental illness. For those who live day to day with a mental illness, talking openly about their path can lead to a better understanding and a different perception about mental illness. If the last two years have taught us anything as a society, it should be that mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated as a priority.