This week is Mental Health Awareness week! Fortunately, in recent years we have become a bit more open about mental health, however, there are still some stubborn myths that are sticking around. We’ve written up five of the most common misconceptions about anxiety and depression, along with our thoughts on how we can start to think differently about mental health.
Mentally ill people are different:
With media hype around the ‘depression gene’ and the inaccurate stereotypes that are perpetuated by popular culture, it’s not hard to arrive at the idea that people who are depressed or experiencing mental illness are fundamentally different from those who do not.
Whilst some studies have shown that learning about so-called ‘depression genes’ can make people less likely to blame their friends for being depressed, the biological side of mental health is still a contentious subject. If we are not careful, we still run the risk of increasing the “perceived distance between those who are afflicted and those who are not”, even though the so-called ‘depression gene’ is only weakly linked with the condition.
It’s important to remember that anyone can be affected by depression, and in very different ways. Approximately one in four* of us are likely to experience some symptoms of a mental health disorder at some point in our lives, and even if we’re fortunate enough not to, we should remember that people experiencing struggles with mental health should not be viewed as ‘other.’
People with depression are always sad:
Like any illness, people with depression or anxiety can have good days and bad days, and what seems easy to them one day may seem totally impossible for them at another time.
Whilst someone suffering from depression or anxiety might have messy hair, unkempt clothing and seem to be on the verge of crying at all times, they may also be well dressed, smiley and talkative. A person may put a lot of effort into hiding the symptoms or effects of what they’re going through, and it’s important not to discount someone’s experiences simply because they don’t match up to preconceived stereotypes.
Meds are bad:
Contrary to popular opinion, taking medication for mental health problems does not turn you into a constantly-smiling zombie-person! Medication can be a very effective treatment, either alongside therapy and other treatments or on its own. I was a little nervous to try medication for the first time because of all the horror stories I’d heard, but it turned out to be just what I needed. It’s important to note that whilst it is awesome if medication can alleviate your symptoms, if you find it is not working for you, speak to your doctor and you can explore different medications and treatment options.
Young people are just ‘being teenagers:’
We’re often told that childhood and adolescence are times that are carefree and fun, and children and teenagers can be perceived by older generations as not having any responsibilities or ‘real problems.’ Whilst this may be true to an extent, it doesn’t mean young people are immune to mental health problems or their experiences aren’t as serious. The Mental Health Foundation says that “Depression is the predominant mental health problem worldwide” and one study found that “ in 2014, 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and older showed symptoms of anxiety or depression.”
From personal experience growing up, many of my problems that I now recognise as relating to my later diagnosed depression & anxiety, were chalked up to “being a teenager” and going through puberty. Family members were quick to judge my behaviour as being a stroppy teenager (which I definitely was sometimes!), rather than being open to discussing depression. Only when I took myself to see a health professional did they begin to consider other ideas. This is something I have heard similar stories about from other friends and forums online, and we need to remain aware that mental health can affect people of any age. Young people need mental health support even if the problems they are going through might not seem ‘real’ to someone else.
Mental illness is a choice or phase:
If you’ve ever had the privilege of having a well-meaning but uninformed person give you such sage advice as “just be positive!” or “you’ve got so much to be happy about!” in relation to your anxiety or depression or [insert pretty much any mood disorder here] then you’ll know the frustration of trying to explain that your mental health is not something you’ve just decided to let go of or struggle with.
However, this isn’t just from the perspective of someone who is not mentally ill judging someone who is. It is important to remember that just like most things, mental health is a spectrum, and if you have been through issues yourself, it still doesn’t mean you can expect to know how another person feels, or that what worked to help you will work for them.
The best thing we can do is be supportive and listen. Try not to adopt the view that someone who is depressed or anxious is not helping themselves enough; everyone’s journey is different and it is important that we respect people living with mental health issues as we would anyone else.
The conversation surrounding mental health has come so far in recent years, but there’s still room for improvement. As long as we keep on talking to each other we can keep learning, and that’s always a good thing.
Words by Ellie Cook and Lauren Barnard
Images by House with No Steps, Texvet.org, The Odyssey Online, Pranita Kocharekar and Getty Images/ThinkStock.
Heine, S.J. (2017) DNA is Not Destiny W.W. Norton & Company