Living in low support housing for those with various mental health issues and dealing with my own issues I know a lot of the myths surrounding mental health are wrong. This is my view on why some of those myths are wrong.
Myth: Only certain types of people experience mental health issues.
Fact: Anyone can experience them. Although it is true that certain events or lifestyles can trigger mental health issues, for me this is not the case. I come from a loving, stable family, and did not grow up with violence around me or major addiction issues in the family. It could be that my problems are genetic, I have no idea. I have met people from all kinds of backgrounds with mental health issues.
Myth: Mental Illness is not as bad as a physical one.
Fact: It can be just as bad as a physical illness, hence suicide and self-harm in some cases. Mental health problems can sometimes lead to physical problems. Such as eating disorders, not looking after themselves properly and smoking.
‘People with depression are twice as likely to smoke as other people. People with schizophrenia are three times as likely to smoke as other people.’ (Mental Health Foundation).
Myth: You can tell someone has a mental illness just by looking at them.
Fact: Often you will have no idea if someone has mental health issues or not. People you work with, friends and even family may have issues you do not know about. It is hard to know what is going on inside someone’s head. However just because you cannot see the problem does not make it any less real for the person experiencing it.
Myth: People with mental health issues can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
Fact: If it was only that simple! It is not being lazy or weak and it requires help to get better when really mentally ill.
Myth: People with mental health issues are usually violent and unpredictable.
Fact: According to Time to Change, a campaign to end mental health discrimination, more than one-third of the public believe that people with mental health problems are more likely to be violent.
‘Violent crime statistics tell a different story, though. One survey suggested that only 1% of victims of violent crime believed that the incident occurred because the offender had a mental illness.’ (BBC Future).
In fact according to various surveys mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.
Myth: Mentally ill people need to be kept in hospital.
Fact: With treatment and support most mentally ill people live independent lives in the community. Although I have been to hospital appointments for mental health help, I have never been hospitalised overnight for it. Some people may need a stay in hospital, but this is much rarer than it used to be and often for very short periods of time. There is no need for the confinement and isolation that was commonly used in the past.
Myth: Men with depression or anxiety are weak, lack masculinity and asking for help is an admission of defeat.
Fact: Asking for help makes you stronger, not weaker, it shows you are gaining strength and want to beat it, rather than let the anxiety win. A strong man is honest with himself and others about it.
‘Anxiety has nothing to do with courage or character. Nothing at all.’ (The Mighty).
Myth: Children do not experience metal health problems.
Fact: Even very young children can show signs of mental health concerns. I experienced mental health issues as a child. Although not diagnosed till I was about twelve, I definitely showed signs of mental health issues way before that. Sadly less than twenty percent of children and adolescents receive the help they need.
Myth: All young people go through ups and downs as party of puberty, it is nothing.
Fact: One in ten young people experience mental health issues. As a teenager some people would say to me ‘most teenagers get angry from time to time’, but trust me I was more than your average teenage angry. I think my problems may have been made worse by puberty at times, but I already had mental health issues before puberty hit, so it was clearly not just that.
Myth: A mental illness is the same as being learning disabled.
Fact: A mental illness has nothing to do with how smart someone is. Steven Fry is known for being very smart, and he has bipolar disorder, which can cause huge mood swings.
I believe ignorance and fear keep mental health stigmatised. If people understood what mental health really is and how it affects people it would be easier for some people to admit to having problems and to get help. Those who can need to speak out about it so others can feel that it is not something to hide and be ashamed of.