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Dakota Center for Independent Living

Mental Health Awareness Month

 

One in five Americans experience a mental health problem in any given year. Yet many people suffer with their symptoms in silence. The stigma that continues to surround mental-health problems prevents them from getting the help they need.

It’s a common problem I have seen all through my life. People often wait years to seek help. Even though their symptoms are treatable, they were afraid to tell anyone about what they were experiencing or too prideful to admit even to themselves, that they need a little help.

Parents may see signs of depression or other mental health issues in their children, but are unaware of how to deal with them, so they just hope that their kids ‘grow out of it’.

Some people fear that a mental health diagnosis could affect their lives: Will people take me seriously if they know I take medication for my depression? If people know I have anxiety, will they assume they can’t trust me in ANYTHING? Do I need to tell my boss I’m taking medications?

Others worried that people would label them as “crazy”: Will other parents let their children come to my home if I go to counseling? If my neighbors see me in the waiting room, will they treat me different?

Many of these concerns are legitimate, however my philosophy has always been: “We all have our own ‘crazy’! Even if you are doing well, there’s a good chance you aren’t 100% mentally healthy. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates only about 17% of adults are in a state of “optimal” mental health. And who is the judge of ‘optimal mental health’?

Despite ongoing efforts to educate the public about mental health, misconceptions remain. Before we can stop the stigma, we need to debunk these five mental health myths:

  1. You’re either mentally ill or mentally healthy.

Similar to the way a physically healthy person may still experience minor health issues—like bad knees or high cholesterol—a mentally healthy person may experience an emotional problem or two. Mental health is a continuum and people may fall anywhere on the spectrum.

  1. Mental illness is a sign of weakness.

Why does society assume people with depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions are mentally “weak.”

Mental strength is not the same as mental health. Just as someone with diabetes could still be physically strong, someone with depression can still be mentally strong. Many people with mental-health issues are incredibly mentally strong. This mental strength I’m talking about is most admirable because as mentioned above, it is difficult to first admit that we need help and then second, making that a daily choice to live in that new found ‘strength’ does not come natural.  However, anyone can make choices to build mental strength, regardless of whether they have a mental health issue.  I call it, taking captive EVERY thought that enters our mind and then dealing with it in the light of, “is this just something I am ‘feeling’, or is this indeed true?” While ‘feelings’ are not always bad, they can lie to us.  If it is not based on truth, get rid of it.  This is how we strengthen our mind.  We do not need to waste our time on the random things that pop into our minds. Life’s too short.

  1. You can’t prevent mental health problems.

You certainly can’t prevent all mental health problems—factors like genetics and traumatic life events play a role. But everyone can take steps to improve their mental health and prevent further mental illness.

Establishing healthy habits—eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, participating in regular exercise—can also go a long way to improving how you feel. Similarly, getting rid of destructive mental habits, like engaging in self-pity or ruminating on the past, can also do wonders for your emotional well-being.

  1. People with mental illness are violent.

Unfortunately, when the media mentions mental illness, it’s often in regard to a headline about a mass shooting or domestic violence incident. Although these headlines frequently portray many violent criminals as being mentally ill, most people with mental health problems aren’t violent.

The American Psychological Association reports that only 7.5% of crimes are directly related to symptoms of mental illness. Poverty, substance abuse, unemployment, and homelessness are among the other reasons why people commit violent acts.

  1. Mental health problems are forever.

Not all mental health problems are curable—schizophrenia, for example, doesn’t go away. But most mental health problems are treatable.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that between 70 and 90% of individuals experience symptom relief with a combination of therapy and medication. Complete recovery from a variety of mental health issues is often possible.

Getting Rid of the Mental-Health Stigma

Even though suicide is the tenth-leading cause of death in America, most public-service announcements and government education programs focus solely on physical health issues like cancer and obesity. Raising awareness of mental health issues and debunking the most common misconceptions could be instrumental in saving lives.