Living with a mental health problem isn’t easy. Indeed, some days it seems downright impossible.
But it is made worse by attitudes that still exist in our society. We are a little better at being tolerant than we used to be, but even in the twenty first century there are still some very nineteenth century views of mental illness out there.
There are many myths about people with mental health issues that can create stigma. Myths that are often incorrect and usually portray a very negative, and totally inaccurate, image.
This can stop people getting help when they need it, or prevent them from talking openly about their problems. It can also make people feel guilty, isolated or ashamed if they become unwell. The reasons for this stigma vary but it seems that a general lack of understanding contributes – many people seem scared by the whole subject of mental illness.
Here are some of the common myths:
Only weak people have mental health problems.
What about Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt or Buzz Aldrin? They all suffered from bipolar disorder and achieved a great deal in their lives.
Psychiatric disorders are not true illnesses like heart disease or cancer; people who have a mental illness are just “crazy.”
Unlike cancer or heart problems, easily detected by simple tests, mental illness has always been an invisible disease. This inability to see what’s wrong may add to the negative public perception, and even fear, of mental illness. But mental illnesses are bona fide medical conditions. They involve complex physiological processes, as well as changes or imbalances in brain chemistry,
Mental health problems are for life.
Not always true. While some people may experience problems over a long period, very many people may experience a single episode of illness. This is as true of schizophrenia as it is of depression. People can and do recover from mental health problems.
You brought it on yourself so pull yourself together.
There are many factors that can contribute to someone becoming unwell and most are outwith an individual’s control. You can no more decide not to have a mental illness that you can decide not to have cancer.
People who have mental health problems are stupid
Totally untrue. Dickens, Byron, Hemingway and Van Gogh all had bipolar disorder. And medical evidence shows that those with the disorder generally have IQs that are well above average.
People with mental health problems are violent
Sensationalist media reporting perpetuates this myth but the sad truth is that people with mental health problems are much more likely to harm themselves than anyone else.
People with mental health problems are weird and different
The majority of Scots say they know someone close to them who has been diagnosed with a mental health problem at some point – that’s an awful lot of weird people!
All people who suffer from depression are suicidal
Suicide is not a mental illness. Not everyone who is depressed will consider suicide. It is as inaccurate as saying that all football fans are hooligans. However it is true to say that individuals experiencing a mental health problem are, generally, associated with a higher risk of suicide.
People are born with mental illness.
Increased risk of mental illnesses can be hereditary; however many people will still develop mental illness even if there is no family history of it. Many factors can cause the onset of a mental illness.
In Scotland an alliance of five leading mental health organisations runs the ‘see me’ anti-stigma campaign. It aims to tackle stigma and discrimination against those with mental health issues through a programme of public information. You may well have seen adverts in the press or on tv.
For more information about ‘see me’, visit the website at www.seemescotland.org.uk
81% of people with lived experience of mental ill-health told ‘see me’ that they had experienced stigma, and yet nearly half of the public thinks that people with mental health problems have the same rights as anyone else.
Most of us will come across mental illness somewhere in our lives. According to ‘see me’, nearly two thirds (61%) of Scots know someone close to them who has experience of mental ill-health.
Changing attitudes won’t cure the mental health issues that many of us live with. But it can make our lives just that bit easier – and that has to be a good thing!