Have you ever visited WebMD when you weren't feeling well to look up your symptoms? Did you (like me) end up convincing yourself that you had a terminal illness?? Did it kickstart severe anxiety when all you probably had was a stomach bug or a mosquito bite??
Many of my patients similarly search for information about mental health and diagnoses, but the truth is, there is a LOT of misinformation out there. To help quell your anxieties, I've compiled lists of resources and organizations that provide accurate, reputable, & understandable information. While not meant to be a substitute for a professional diagnosis or treatment, these resources may shed light on your experiences and offer suggestions for things you can start doing today to feel better.
For information on general mental health concerns, including diagnosis and treatment, click HERE.
For information on LGBTQ+ specific concerns, click HERE.
Mental Health Myths These are some of the most common myths and misperceptions that I hear from my clients, their families, or other individuals with whom I interact. Are any of these things that you believe or have been told?
Myth 1: Mental illness is "all in your head"
Mental illness is not just "all in your head." Research has shown us time and again that the mind and body are intricately connected. As a simple example, think about the "butterflies" in your stomach or sweaty palms you get when you are nervous. Mental illness can contribute to poorer physical health, and poor physical health can exacerbate mental illness. Many diagnoses, such as schizophrenia or depression, are associated with chemical imbalances in the brain. Mental illness is not the result of a poor attitude, bad thoughts, or something your brain just made up. It is real, your pain is real, and real help exists.
Myth 2: People with mental illness just need to "get over it"
This myth implies that people with a mental illness are somehow lacking in willpower or the ability to not "allow" themselves to be bothered by things, which is simply not true. People who suffer from a mental illness are not inferior, weak, or at the mercy of a bad attitude. Many of my clients have been told by friends or loved ones to "just get over it." This myth serves to promote a lack of empathy and a lack of recognition of the true suffering that mental illness can cause for people. Rather than telling someone to "get over it," seek instead to understand how they feel, and support efforts taken to help themselves feel better.
Myth 3: People with a mental illness are more likely to be violent
The media is largely to blame for this myth. When a person who has a history of mental illness commits a highly publicized crime, the media tend to overstate and exaggerate the influence their mental illness may have had on their behavior. This leads to people believing that people with mental illness are inherently more dangerous or violent, which is definitely not true. People with a mental illness are not only no more likely to commit a violent act than someone without a mental illness, but they are actually far more likely to have violence perpetrated against them. People with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of crime, assault, or abuse than other people. (mentalhealth.gov)
Myth 4: Having a mental illness means that you are crazy
I have had more than one client ask me, "since I have (insert diagnosis here), does that mean I'm crazy?" And more than one express "my biggest fear is that you're going to tell me I'm crazy." I have also heard people refer to individuals with mental illness as "psycho" or "disturbed." Terms like these only serve to perpetuate harmful stigma that keeps people from seeking the help they need. People with mental illness are just that...people. They have normal problems, everyday concerns, & regular feelings. While a mental illness may contribute to additional stress or difficulties in life, that does not mean they are "crazy" or somehow defective. Anyone can have a mental illness at some point in life. Being in therapy or taking medication for mental distress does not mean you are "crazy." Active Minds is an organization committed to fighting stigma surrounding mental health -- check out their webpage for some great resources and information!
Myth 5: If you have a mental illness, you can't live a normal life
First of all, what does 'normal' even mean?? Everyone's lives are filled with up-and-downs, struggles, strengths, & adaptations. Your normal is different from my normal, and everyone else's. But back to the original statement -- the truth is that people with mental illness are able to live happy, fulfilled, productive lives, just like people without a mental illness. Most of my clients work, take care of their families, & enjoy various activities. And for others, their treatment goals involve increasing their quality of life in these areas. While it is true that certain illnesses may pose greater challenges to carrying out everyday tasks, with treatment, anyone can learn to improve their quality of life and get back to the things they enjoy.
Myth 6: Psychiatric medications are a "crutch"
I have heard this time and again from many of my clients and/or their loved ones. My issue is this -- if someone has Diabetes or a heart condition and takes medication for it, would we tell them that it's a crutch and they should stop taking it? Of course not! For some reason, there is particular stigma surrounding the use of medication for mental illness. Going back to what I mentioned earlier, many psychiatric conditions are associated with neuro-chemical imbalances or disruptions in normal brain processes (e.g. low serotonin in depression, dopamine imbalances in schizophrenia). Medication helps correct these imbalances and regulate typical body processes. Sometimes individuals are eventually able to decrease or discontinue medication use, while others require it for longer periods of time or for the rest of their lives, just like with other physical health conditions. It's just a fact of life. Requiring medication to manage psychiatric symptoms is not something of which you should be ashamed. Many of my clients credit a combination of medication and therapy with allowing them to get back to work, to experience joy again, & to perform at their best. To live your best life requires utilizing all available tools, of which medication may be one.