Mental health is a topic which is often not normalised in discussion, resulting in the internalising of common misconceptions. We’re too afraid or embarrassed to ask questions or bring up issues, either out of fear of being judged or labelled as insensitive. Often, we don’t realise that these internal biases and misconceptions exist until we are directly confronted with them. This is why being aware of them and addressing them is even more crucial.
This article will purposely exclude some common misconceptions such as “everyone has mental health”, because these have already been discussed on the Mindcology instagram page (@MindcologyHK).
Only people without friends need therapists/if you have a therapist something is “wrong with you”
Many of us believe that going to see a therapist is a drastic mode of action only reserved for serious cases when in reality, it is much more common than initially perceived. This is one which, I am embarrassed to admit, I myself have subconsciously internalized. To give an example: there was a period of time in my life in which I was dealing with school stress as well as a family health related issue. During that time, my mother confronted me with the option to seek guidance from a counsellor, which I vehemently denied. My immediate reaction exemplified the attitude I had adopted; I was unwilling to admit that I needed help out of the fear that it would make me appear weak or “different”, a feeling we have been evolutionarily wired to avoid. However since then, I have worked towards radically shifting my mindset. I saw how having a therapist is in no way synonymous with the number of friends you have nor does it mean something is wrong with you. In fact, according to Psychology Today, many people who seek out therapy are successful and quite healthy, but struggle with self doubt, stress, emotional trauma, family life or simply want to work on overcoming an obstacle. Evidently, these are things which are embedded into the fabric of life -- no human navigates the world without encountering these challenges.Thus it is important to acknowledge that having a therapist is in no way an indicator for one's mental state as it is something that can be beneficial for many individuals regardless of the severity of their situations.
This misconception is quite complex because it can vary from person to person and from condition to condition. For example, people with schizophrenia tend to experience more severe negative side effects for longer periods of time than people with other conditions.
Additionally, one’s genetics can make them more prone to experiencing depressive episodes throughout their lifetime or having depression. According to Healthline, there are multiple chromosomes which have been found to increase the chances of developing clinical depression. In fact, around 40% of individuals with clinical depression have genetic links to the illness, while the remaining cases were due to environmental factors. I bring this up because it is important to understand how certain conditions arise to comprehend if one lives with a condition forever.
Expanding on this example of depression, according to a study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, certain negative effects are “ongoing and pervasive” throughout a person’s lifetime. However, the process of recovery is also a continual one, meaning that a person can dip in and out of phases. There will be better days, but there will also be worse days. Rather than seeing mental illnesses like the flu, with patients being either “sick” or “not sick”, we should consider that mental illnesses are very dependent on the environment and the person’s stage in life. Recovery is a continuum which can only be judged by the person undergoing it. For some, it might be a small action, such as leaving the house. For others, recovery is defined by a more philosophical approach such as a shift to a more hopeful mindset. Some people live with conditions forever while others don’t, however, the effects can usually be managed to live a relatively normal life.
Again, the answer to this misconception is very nuanced given the variety of drugs used to treat patients. Drugs are very commonly used to treat mental health conditions. According to Mayo Clinic, some of the most common types of drugs prescribed include:
Antidepressants, which are used to treat depression and anxiety
Anti-anxiety medication, which is used to treat anxiety or panic disorders
Mood stabilizing medication, which is used to treat bipolar disorder
Medication can limit the severity of the negative effects to handle some of the more extreme symptoms that come with the illness. However these medicines often come with some side effects. For example, according to Neuro Spa, anti-anxiety meds can induce fatigue, drowsiness, loss of appetite, headaches etc… Additionally, although medications alter the way our body works, they don’t get to the root of the issue. Oftentimes, a condition such as depression has other causes deeply intertwined with one’s lifestyle or environment, in which other forms of treatment are needed to tackle the issue. One of the most common ones is psychotherapy. In simple terms, it involves seeing a psychotherapist and having in depth discussions. This is where you begin to delve into some of the root issues or feelings you may have been avoiding, and it provides a safe space for you to pour out your thoughts and emotions. According to the American Psychological Association, psychotherapy’s benefits are longer lasting than those of drugs, as it teaches you skills and tips which you can use throughout the rest of your life. It is usually recommended to undergo a combination of both. It should also be noted that a variety of other treatments exist, such as personal lifestyle changes, brain stimulation therapy and residential/hospital programs.
However, it is important to note that for some more severe mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, medicine may be essential to suppress the negative symptoms of the diseases. For example antipsychotics are often prescribed to schizophrenic patients to help ease symptoms of delusions and hallucinations. These symptoms may not be treatable with psychotherapy and thus medicine plays a key role in helping to suppress these symptoms.
“I can’t support someone with mental health issues, only a professional can”
As aforementioned, drugs and psychotherapy are a very effective way of treating and recovering from conditions. However, family and friends also play a crucial role in supporting someone who is suffering. Help can be as simple as noticing a change and addressing it together. It could also include encouraging them to take the first step and go see a professional and find out which kinds of treatments are best for them. Even something as small as reminding them to take their medication or go to sleep early is hugely important. For someone struggling, having a supportive network, regardless of its size, is an incredibly beneficial asset. Aside from providing practical help, loved ones can also provide emotional help. Often a simple “how are you?” can go very far in sparking a conversation. During these conversations the listener should comfort the other person to let them know they aren’t alone and shouldn’t feel ashamed. A common mishap which occurs in these conversations is invalidating the other person's feelings. Although well intentioned, comments such as “but you seem happy” or “I don’t see anything wrong with you” reinforce the misunderstanding that one’s outward behavior is always synonymous with one's emotional state. It also undermines their efforts to reach out and get help, implanting doubt as to whether they are even “sick”. Instead, try listening non judgmentally in order to build up trust and create a safe space so the person feels heard and acknowledged. It is true that psychotherapists are experts in their field and will provide the short term help needed, but ultimately, it is one’s support network which contributes to long term help.
Although this article serves as a helpful guide to begin questioning our internal ideas about mental health, it is by no means an expansive list. It is always important to refer to professionals or ask others who have first hand experience with conditions to give their insight.
Thank you for reading this article. For more information check out some of Mindcology's other articles, as well as our podcast “The Peculiar Mind”.
“Research Shows Psychotherapy Is Effective but Underutilized.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/psychotherapy-effective#:~:text=The%20results%20of%20psychotherapy%20tend,in%20treating%20depression%20and%20anxiety.
“Supporting a Friend or Family Member with a Mental Illness.” Here to Help, www.heretohelp.bc.ca/infosheet/supporting-a-friend-or-family-member-with-a-mental-illness.
Upshaw, W. Nate. “The Side Effects of Anxiety Medications.” NeuroSpa, 1 Oct. 2020, neurospatms.com/the-side-effects-of-anxiety-medications/#:~:text=The%20side%20effects%20of%20anxiety%20medications%2C%20also%20called%20anxiolytics%2C%20include,attacks%20to%20a%20manageable%20level.