450 million people suffer from mental illness right now: 42 million American adults suffer from anxiety disorders, 16 million suffer from major depression, and 6.1 million suffer from bipolar disorder.
Despite these striking statistics, many still believe that mental illnesses are simply made-up—that these sufferers are dramatic or just want attention. But in reality, people are suffering every day from unforgiving debilitating mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many more. And on top of that, they have to face the many misconceptions and stigmas that come with their mental illness.
In hopes of not only destroying these myths but raising awareness for mental illness, we have an entire day dedicated to supporting mental health efforts: World Mental Health Day, which occurs every year on October 10th. While it’s important we talk about mental illness year-round, this day serves as a dedicated time to come together and really focus our attention on raising awareness for mental health conditions. Now, an important part of raising awareness is educating yourself and getting the facts right. So let’s take a look at some of the most common mental illness misconceptions and straighten them out for good:
1. Myth: Mental illness isn’t real—these people are just dramatic or weak.
Reality: Mental illness is very real and the people affected are very strong.
As I briefly touched on earlier, some people believe that mental illness is made-up. They think that people are just using it as an excuse to get out of something, to slack off at work, to get attention. But really, these individuals are fighting an unbelievably challenging battle. Sickness isn’t always characterized by a fever, a bad cough, or any other outward physical symptom—these people are still sick and they’re still suffering, but they show amazing strength for fighting back.
2. Myth: People with mental illness are dangerous and should be feared.
Reality: Generally speaking, people struggling with a mental disorder are NOT dangerous.
These people live generally normal lives and face their own daily struggles, just like you do. These people are so normal, in fact, that you probably wouldn’t even realize they have a mental illness.
3. Myth: Depression is a state of mind and an easy fix.
Reality: Depression is an illness that demands treatment.
Depression is more than just feeling sad or unmotivated—it’s an illness caused by changes in brain chemistry and other factors like genetics, fluctuating hormone levels, and stress. And it can’t be easily fixed either: it often takes treatment to effectively deal with or recover from depression, such as therapy and/or medication.
4. Myth: Addiction isn’t a disease it’s a choice.
Reality: Addiction is indeed a disease.
Like depression, addiction and substance use disorder are related to genetics and stress, in addition to other underlying conditions like anxiety or depression. Individuals who suffer from addiction and substance abuse can’t simply shake the habit or their urge to use; again, it takes treatment and intervention because it is a mental illness.
5. Myth: Mental illness exists but it isn’t common.
Reality: 450 million people currently suffer from mental health conditions.
Some people deny the entire existence of mental illness while others acknowledge its existence but think it’s rare. This relates back to the notion that people must see something to believe it. But in reality, people all around us are suffering from mental illness, whether that be depression, ADHD, OCD, anxiety, or any other condition—even if it’s not clear from just looking at them. Look at the statistics instead.
6. Myth: People with mental illness are ‘stupid’ or aren’t as intelligent.
Reality: They are just as smart as people who don’t suffer from mental illness.
One’s IQ or intelligence has nothing to do with mental illness. While certain conditions may make it more difficult for an individual to concentrate or excel in a certain area (such as in creativity), these people are not stupid in the slightest. They’re simply good at some things and bad at others, just like everybody else—they’re smart, they’re capable, and they’re worthy.