You may not realize it, but you've probably already been impacted by mental illness. In Canada alone, 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), so one way or the other, the rest of us will experience it indirectly.
Even though the dialogue for mental health has become increasingly open — Bell's Let's Talk Day, for example, started a Canada-wide campaign to end stigmas associated with mental illness — it also means we hear a lot more myths about what it means to be mentally ill.
"Believing these myths leads people with depression, for example, to blame themselves, family members or others around them," says Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and president of Global Medical Education. Masand adds many people with depression are untreated and not seeking help, which can lead to worse outcomes.
Mental illness doesn't have one single definition either. Illnesses include bipolar disorder, depression, suicidal thoughts, schizophrenia and ADHD, just to name a few, all of which have very different diagnoses. While causes of mental illness also vary from person to person, some factors include genetic, biological, personality and environmental ones. CMHA says on top of this, almost 50 per cent of people who go through anxiety or depression never go see a doctor.
In order for people to stop blaming themselves for their mental illnesses, Masand says, we must understand the facts, and stop believing the myths.
Here are 11 things Masand says most of us hear all the time about mental illness and the actual facts behind them:
Common Mental Health Myths
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You Are Not Sick
MYTH: Bipolar disorder just means mood swings
FACT: Bipolar disorder is an illness with severe mood swings. Often, bipolar can interfere with one’s daily functioning, and sometimes can even lead to suicide, according to Dr. Prakash Masand, a psychiatrist and president of Global Medical Education.
Am I Cured?
MYTH: Once you feel better you can stop taking your medication
FACT: Almost all patients with psychiatric illness need maintenance treatment for a while, even if they start "feeling better." Masand says this is to prevent relapses and recurrences, similar to diabetes and heart disease patients.
Your Relationship Is To Blame
MYTH: Psychiatric illness is a result of bad relationships
FACT: All psychiatric illnesses have a genetic component and an environmental component, Masand says. A bad relationship, for example, is only one of several factors.
You Can't Handle It
MYTH: Psychiatric illnesses are due to weak character or inadequate coping skills
FACT: Psychiatric illnesses are medical illnesses with several origins like all other illnesses, Masand says. Just because you cry easily or can't cope with personal problems, it doesn't make you weak or more likely to be mentally ill.
It Will Go Away
MYTH: Depression is just sadness that will go away
FACT: Depression is a serious medical illness with morbidity and mortality, Masand says. Not all people show obvious signs of being depressed either. While some seek medication or go to therapy to cope, Masand says others try exercise, yoga or meditation. On the flip side, if someone is often sad or emotional, it doesn't necessarily mean they are depressed.
You Won't Have A 'Normal' Life
MYTH: Once you have depression or bipolar disorder, you will never achieve your full potential or live a 'normal' life
FACT: Some of the most successful people in various fields have had depression or bipolar disorder, including Isaac Newton, Beethoven, Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey, Masand says. People who go through a mental illness may also feel they can't ever get back to a "normal life." This is another myth. Someone with a mental illness can still function, go to work, raise a family or perform any other task.
Suicide Isn't Really A Big Problem
MYTH: Suicide is not a big problem in our society
FACT: You may not know someone who has been though suicide, but this doesn't mean it doesn't happen. In 2009, for example, suicide accounted for 3,890 deaths in Canada among both genders, and according to Statistics Canada, mental illness is the most important risk factor. In the U.S., Masand says suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2007.
If You Seek Help, You Are Weak
MYTH: Treatment for psychiatric illness is a cop-out for weak people
FACT: Treatment is necessary for psychiatric illnesses like it is for other medical illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, Masand says. This myth is also commonly believed because finding help or telling people close to you about your illnesses can also lead to shaming and embarrassment.
They Are Just 'Crazy'
MYTH: All patients with schizophrenia are dangerous
FACT: If you've ever seen schizophrenia or mental health portrayed in mainstream media, you might just think everyone who is mentally ill is "crazy." Only a small proportion of patients with schizophrenia can be violent and this is usually because they are untreated, Masand says.
Just Get Over It
MYTH: Talk therapy is just whining
FACT: Several types of talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, can be just as effective as medication in treating depression and anxiety disorders.