Myths and facts about mental health

By Mohamed Ilh’aan Nisham

Mental health can be a difficult concept to understand without the proper education and awareness. This could be a hindrance when it comes to learning more about how it can impact the people around you. Common misunderstandings can also create a harmful environment for those affected with mental illnesses. So, the best way to make a difference is to evaluate your conceptual understanding of this matter. 

One major misconception regarding mental health is that the problems that come with it are uncommon or that it only affects a minority of people. This is false as statistically, one in four people among any demographic have a chance of being affected by a mental illness. On a global scale, two billion of the eight billion in the world can be affected by mental health issues. In addition, studies show that people affected by depression (one of the most common mental health disorders) have tripled since the COVID-19 pandemic. This being said, it is also important for us to understand that having a mental illness is not a manifestation of weak characteristics in a person. Instead, it shows how strong and resilient a person can be as these disorders can take a huge toll on them, impacting their lives and how they conduct themselves in their daily lives.

The myth that all people with mental health disorders are harmful to both themselves and society is another common misconception. This, however, can be debunked, as researchers claim that people with more severe disorders such as schizophrenia - which is historically described and viewed to have a violent nature - are now proven to be non-violent. Some cases of violence can be attributed as a by-product of having a mental health disorder but these numbers are in a minority. The exaggerated claims by the public that all people with mental illnesses are harmful and violent can dehumanize those that are implicated. Thus, it is crucial to be aware that only a small percentage of people who have mental illnesses pose a violent nature. If we as a society fail to remove the negative connotations that have been present for centuries regarding mental health disorders, it would lead to a path where the mentally ill are alienated, abandoned, and not considered a part of society. 

Another common theme attributed to mental illness is eating disorders. It is often labeled that only females with mental illnesses have difficulty maintaining a healthy diet, but this again has been refuted through extensive research. Studies now show that people of all genders have a possibility of having eating disorders and of those, males currently account for 10-25% of anorexia (loss of appetite) and bulimia nervosa (uncontrolled eating), in addition to 25% of binge eating disorders. Most also assume that eating disorders are a deliberate lifestyle choice made by the mentally ill, which is also not true. It is a serious issue that a lot of people struggle with on top of having to cope with their mental health and, therefore, we should be more sensitive when addressing our concerns as oftentimes these disorders can be fatal. 

Employers often choose to turn down people with mental illnesses when looking to hire. This can create a negative atmosphere, a sense of helplessness, and another layer of stigma. Most employers hesitate to hire people affected by mental health disorders due to fears and concerns regarding unproductivity. This again is not true as employees who suffer from mental health disorders have statistically reported above-average attendance, punctuality, and efficient work ethics, which are on par with their coworkers or even higher than average employees. On top of this, creating a safer work environment that aids the mentally ill can boost overall morale and decrease absenteeism in the workplace.

One other myth that can be debunked is that mental illnesses are permanent and are seen as something that will loom over your head for a lifetime. People experience mental health disorders differently. For some, it can be an illness they have had since birth like autism spectrum disorder, and for others, it may be something they only have to deal with occasionally. The good news is that people often consider they have recovered from their difficulties by reaching out for help through medication and/or therapy. This recovery, however, is completely subjective; you decide how you measure your recovery. It could be the feeling of turning back to the person you used to be before the symptoms presented themselves, the feeling of relief after a hard-fought battle with your mental disorder, or the grasp you have ongoing through everyday activities without the help of a professional. 

The takeaway from all the aforementioned myths suggests that most people are misinformed or unaware of the nature of mental illnesses. We need to address this situation by changing the way society perceives mental health and mental illness. This can be achieved through awareness programs created for a broad audience run by NGOs, or by implementing educational programs in the formal school curriculums that our youth undergo.

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