Mental illnesses are perceived to be threatening and uncomfortable since ages. Such attitudes eventually foster stigma and discrimination. Throughout history, people struggling from mental health problems have been treated differently, excluded and even brutalized. Demonic or spirit possession, perhaps the oldest myth associated with mental illness certainly endorses and gives rise to such stigmas which leads to people seeking treatment from faith healers. Prejudicial and discriminatory behaviour towards individuals with mental health problems affects their quality of life, treatment and disturbs their effective recovery.
The medical theory itself follows the stereotypical beliefs that imply mental problems to be different or a result of physical dysfunctions. As a result of these social stigmas and age old stereotypes, several misconceptions not only surround mental illnesses but also prolong their treatment.
- MYTH- ORDINARY SADNESS
It is a serious medical condition which has affected 264 million people globally and is still confused with ordinary sadness. Biological evidence proves abnormal functioning of nerve circuits in the brain.
- MYTH- MEN DON’T CRY
The patriarchal pressure has made men to oppress and not talk about their feelings, which further misquotes that man can be angry, irritated, restless but never depressed. Anyone can have depression.
- MYTH- JUST THINK POSITIVE
Another myth associated with depression which unduly glorifies will power and is quick to label anyone who fails to be a whiner. Whereas depression is a medical problem related to changes in that brain and is known to improve with appropriate treatment.
Seeking treatment is not depending on drugs for the rest of your life. Medication is not always necessary. Although it can be used according to the problem, therapy and counseling are effective too. Positive thinking is not enough, and accurate assessments and replacement of automatic negative thoughts help to ease depression.
- MYTH- DEPRESSION CANNOT BE TREATED
Depression is not difficult to treat. According to a study, approximately 70% of patients became symptom free once they started taking medication and talk therapy
BIPOLAR DISORDER –
- MYTH- BIPOLAR IS JUST MANIA
Bipolar disorder is a combination of a wide range of mood disturbances. Mania is a state of elevated mood that results in severe disruption to daily life. Hypomania is similar to but not as intense or disruptive as mania. Depression is a state of persistent low mood and decrease in energy levels and activity.
- MYTH- THERE’S ONLY ONE TYPE OF BIPOLAR DISORDER
There are 4 types of bipolar disorders distinguished by different experiences and intensities of mood disturbance:
- Bipolar I – manic episode
- Bipolar II – hypomanic and depressive episodes
- Cyclothymic Disorder – hypomanic and depressive symptoms
- Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified – bipolar-like mood disturbance that does not fit the pattern of the other diagnoses
- MYTH- PEOPLE WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER ARE JUST MOODY
People with bipolar disorder experience highs and lows which are different from everyday with fluctuating extremities.
- MYTH- MEDICATION IS THE ONLY TREATMENT
Medication is often the first preference for treatment but psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and therapy sessions have shown to help minimise symptoms and reduce the risk of future episodes.
- MYTH- GENES DON’T PLAY ANY ROLE
The disorder can run in families. Studies have shown that people with certain genes may be more likely to get the illness than others.
- MYTH- ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND DEMENTIA ARE THE SAME
This is one of the most common misconceptions surrounding dementia, however this is not the case, although it is easy to be mistaken! Dementia is an umbrella term for a varied set of symptoms.
- MYTH- DEMENTIA IS FATAL
As dementia is an umbrella term describing a number of diseases with certain symptoms, it is these diseases which can prove to be fatal. For example, Alzheimer’s disease causes progressive brain damage, and not just memory loss, which is fatal.
- MYTH- ADHD IS NOT A REAL DISORDER
ADHD is recognized as a disorder by the majority of professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, and educational associations and organizations. One factor that contributes to misunderstandings about ADHD’s status is that no specific test exists which can definitively identify the disorder. Pre-existing or undiagnosed medical conditions that could be the cause of a person’s symptoms must be ruled out before a diagnosis of ADHD can be made.
- MYTH- ONLY CHILDREN CAN HAVE ADHD
The symptoms of ADHD must be present by the age of seven to meet the criteria for diagnosis, but many individuals remain undiagnosed until adulthood.
- MYTH- ADHD IS CAUSED BY POOR PARENTING
Parents of children with ADHD may be blamed for their child’s behavior but the condition is not strictly caused by poor parenting.
- MYTH- HYPERACTIVITY IS A SYMPTOM
The “attention deficit” part of the name has led to misunderstandings about the nature of ADHD and perpetuated myths. There are different types of ADHD, including:
- Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
- Predominantly inattentive
- MYTH- STIMULANTS LEAD TO SUBSTANCE ABUSE
There is a concern that stimulant medications used to treat ADHD can lead to substance misuse. However, research has shown that untreated ADHD increases a person’s risk for substance abuse.
- MYTH- PEOPLE WITH SCHIZOPHRENIA ARE ALWAYS DANGEROUS
It is the most common myth associated with schizophrenia. It is not true and is a misconception because of the suicidal and violent behaviour of people suffering from it.
- MYTH- SCHIZOPHRENIA IS VERY RARE
Schizophrenia affects people from all walks of life and social backgrounds. It exists in all races and societies and strikes people in all age groups. About 1 in 100 people may experience an episode of the illness at some time during their life.
- MYTH- SCHIZOPHRENIA DOESN’T EXIST
In the middle of the 20th century there were those in the anti-psychiatry movement who proposed that schizophrenia didn’t exist and it was an invention of the psychiatry profession.
- MYTH- SCHIZOPHRENIA IS SPLIT PERSONALITY
One of the popular myths about schizophrenia is that it involves a split personality. This is not the case. To be more accurate, it is a condition in which the mind becomes confused and disordered. It’s often that people with schizophrenia can see the sounds and hear the colours.
- MYTH- EVERYONE HAS A LITTLE OCD
This statement is not only wrong but also offensive to those who actually suffer from OCD. Many people like things a certain way or are obsessive or compulsive about something but these personality traits, thoughts, or behaviors are very different from the psychological disorder of OCD which causes significant distress or impairment in one’s functioning. Casually quoting OCD in daily life minimises their sufferings and makes a joke of something very serious.
- MYTH- WASHING HANDS IS OCD
Compulsive hand washing is a symptom of one type of OCD, a type in which the sufferer’s obsessions surround contamination or a fear of getting sick and is very different from the habit of washing hands.
- MYTH- PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM OCD ARE CRAZY
This myth is stereotypically associated with the stigma surrounding other mental problems as well. As “crazy” as their obsessions may sound, are the unrealistic fears that make them unable to completely let it go due to the slight possibility that it could occur again.
- MYTH- OCD IS A WOMEN’S DISEASE
It may seem like more women than men would have an anxiety disorder like OCD but according to the International OCD Foundation, OCD affects men, women, and children and of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds at the same rate.
- MYTH- OCD ISN’T TREATABLE
Many people don’t seek treatment for OCD because they’re embarrassed and due to the social stigma attached to it. Whereas a combination of behavioral therapy and medications can definitely cure OCD.
- MYTH- ONLY SOLDIERS GET PTSD
Anyone who sees or goes through a traumatic event can develop PTSD. A traumatic event is a scary experience which may include violent crimes, sexual assault, childhood neglect or abuse, and natural disasters.
- MYTH- YOU SHOULD MOVE ON AFTER A TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE
The strong emotions you may feel during the traumatic event can create changes in your brain that result in PTSD. You may not be able to “move on” because of this. Remember that PTSD is a medical condition and can be treated using medication/therapy.
- MYTH- PTSD HAPPENS RIGHT AFTER TRAUMA
PTSD symptoms can develop at any time after a traumatic event. Your symptoms may start soon after the event, or you may not have them until months or years later.
EATING DISORDERS –
- MYTH- EATING DISORDERS ARE A CHOICE
Eating disorders (EDs) are actually complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that patients don’t choose. Genetic research shows that biological factors play a significant role in who develops an eating disorder like Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). EDs commonly co-occur with other mental health conditions like major depression, anxiety, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- MYTH- EVERYONE HAS EATING DISORDER
The stereotypical obsession with weight has disordered the eating patterns whereas eating disorders are serious mental health conditions with life threatening consequences.
- MYTH- EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT SERIOUS
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Upto 20% of individuals with chronic anorexia nervosa will die as a result of their illness. Community studies of anorexia, bulimia, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS, now called OSFED) show that all eating disorders have similar mortality rates. Besides medical complications from binge eating, purging, starvation, and over-exercise, suicide is also common amongst individuals with eating disorders. People who struggle with eating disorders also have a severely impacted quality of life.
- MYTH- YOU CAN TELL BY LOOKING IF SOMEONE IS SUFFERING FROM AN EATING DISORDER
People who suffer with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.
- MYTH- EATING DISORDERS ARE RARE
Recovery is absolutely possible. Due to the complexity of eating disorders, recovery can take months or years but with treatment, many people do recover.
Such myths along with other misconceptions and stereotypes adversely affect people struggling with mental health problems.Discrimination and isolation of patients leads to the fear of being inferior as a result of which their treatments are prolonged. Mental health is still a taboo in our society because of which many illnesses are left undiagnosed.
WHO has labelled India to be ‘the most depressing country’. One in seven people have suffered from some sort of mental problem between 1990-2017. The major reason for this loss in mental health status is the lack of awareness and sensitivity towards mental health issues. Timely interventions, awareness, availability of professional help and favourable policies can help to improve the situation.
Apart from this, we as a society need to bust the myths surrounding mental illnesses, break the age old stereotypes and try to normalise mental health issues just as other physical problems so that people struggling from them are not left alone and live their lives with dignity. It’s our responsibility and foremost need to understand self-learning and self-coaching. Let’s teach and preach that mental health matters.
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