Breaking the Myths

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In the past, mental health has been considered to be a taboo subject too upsetting to be talked about openly. Sadly, when mental illness is talked about, such conversations are often plagued with misconceptions. Fortunately, in recent years, this has started to change. Mental health organizations and social media trends have advocated and brought awareness to the importance of understanding mental health and mental illness. While progress has been made toward reducing the stigma around mental health, there are still many myths around mental health that continue to hinder its understanding. Examples of mental health myths are abundant, and below are some of the most commonly believed myths: 

Myth 1: Mental illness is not common. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness, with 1 in 6 youths aged 6-17 experiencing a mental health disorder each year. Anxiety disorders, for example, are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults every year. These statistics highlight the fact that mental illness can affect individuals of all ages. It is important to understand that mental illness may be more common than previously thought. In doing so, people living with a mental illness can feel that they are not alone.  

Myth 2: If I have a mental illness, I will never feel better. 

It is important to remember that everyone’s journey as they navigate life with a mental illness is different. The process of seeking help to manage mental illness may be long and include several setbacks along the way, but it is possible to live a satisfying and productive life. There are several strategies that can help overcome and manage challenges that may arise. Some examples include practicing self-care, maintaining relationships with family and friends, learning about mental illness, and seeking treatment. By implementing a combination of these strategies, it is possible for someone to experience significant improvement in their life. Treatment works. Seeking assistance from a mental health professional is also one way to live a healthier life. 

Myth 3: You only need therapy if you have a serious mental illness. 

There is a common misconception that only people with severe mental illness should seek therapy. However, a therapist can help someone navigate any kind of adversity or issue, even if it does not pertain to an immediate crisis or severe mental illness. It is important to realize that everyone experiences adversity in some way at some point in their life. A therapist can provide a judgment-free space to communicate these issues and help navigate and process what you are feeling and experiencing. 

Myth 4: People with mental illness cannot have a job. 

Having a mental illness should not deter someone from seeking employment despite the possibility of needing accommodations from their employers. Fortunately, there are laws and programs that support individuals with mental illness receive appropriate accommodations and opportunities in the workforce. Some examples include the Americans with Disabilities Act, Individual Placement and Support, and clubhouses. With the proper accommodations, an individual with mental illness can be productive and successful in life.  

Myth 5: I cannot help a loved one with a mental illness.

There are several ways that you can help a loved one with a mental illness. For example, assuring your loved ones that they are not alone, that they matter, and that they are loved may provide the courage that is needed to persevere through the journey of seeking help. It may be helpful to remember to listen without trying to fix, do not invalidate what they are feeling, and just be there when needed. Researching and educating yourself on the specific set of symptoms and common struggles associated with the mental illness your loved one is experiencing can provide insight on how to better support that individual. Being a source of support to an individual living with mental illness may help them overcome and manage the symptoms and struggles that they are experiencing.

These are only some of the many common myths surrounding mental illness and mental health. By dismantling these false misconceptions, we can begin normalizing conversations around mental illness and therapy. In doing so, this can lead to more people seeking help and improving the overall quality of life of those living with mental illness. It is important to remember that if you are living with a mental illness, you are not alone, you can be successful, and you do have support. 

Co-authors include Dr. Mercado’s Mental Health Lab at UTRGV: Bianca Esquivel, Andy Torres, Amanda Palomin, Frances Morales, and Alfonso Mercado.

Dr. Alfonso Mercado