A little boy spends each night looking under his bed, making sure the door is locked, opening and closing his blinds 5 times, and brushing his teeth for exactly 45 seconds—he can’t sleep until he does. His mom realizes this might be a sign. She was right: the doctor informs her that he has obsessive compulsive disorder.
He’s an accomplished businessman that appears to have it all together. But he actually has terrible social anxiety. All of his colleagues think that he’s too busy making deals and getting ahead on work to make it out on the weekends or to weekly lunches, but in reality, he’s terrified of being judged by others—a characterization of social anxiety disorder.
A young woman, known for her contagious positivity and outgoing personality, has had trouble getting out of bed lately. She’s no longer excited about going to work or coaching her soccer team each day. Instead, she’s sad, uninterested, and tired all of the time. It’s time to go to therapy for her depression, she realizes.
People of all ages, all over the world, struggle with mental illness—their debilitating effects as well as the stigma that comes with it. And sometimes they even begin to question if they are strange or unfit for society due to their mental illness. Despite the many myths and misconceptions out there that wrongfully stereotype the mentally ill, the answer is no: those who suffer with mental illness are not unfit for society. In fact, they are smart and they are capable, just like the rest of us; they do not need to change, these misconceptions do. Here are five common misconceptions about mental illness that need to be confronted and corrected:
1) Misconception: The mentally ill are not ill at all—they’re just making excuses.
Some believe that mental illness is made-up. They think that it’s an excuse for attention or for failure—but this just isn’t true. Mental illness is real, its effects are real. People with depression really do have trouble getting out of bed in the morning; people with anxiety really do have trouble concentrating. But still, these individuals find the strength to fight back against their disorders. And for that, they are strong, not weak.
2) Misconception: If they change their attitude, then they can beat it.
Another widespread misconception is that people with mental disorders can simply snap out of it, or change their attitude and get better. But in reality, a lot of mental disorders will never completely absolve. And the ones that do typically owe it all to the hard work of the affected individual and the treatment he or she used, such as psychotherapy or medication. Sometimes, the disorder cannot even be treated directly, only the harmful symptoms (e.g., discomfort, paranoia, nerves, etc.) that come with it.
3) Misconception: People with mental illnesses are unstable and incapable.
Some go as far as saying the mentally ill are unstable and incapable of taking care of their families or functioning on a normal basis. While severe forms of certain disorders can hinder individuals significantly, altering life as they once knew it, the majority of those affected by mental health disorders are able to function normally: they go to school, they succeed at their jobs, and they enjoy time with their loved ones. While it may take treatment to get these individuals back to feeling like their selves, they are absolutely capable of living a truly great life just like the rest of us.
4) Misconception: The mentally ill are dangerous beings.
Without even realizing it, many of us stigmatize people with mental illnesses as dangerous. But in reality, studies have shown that people suffering from mental health disorders are actually more likely to become victims of violence than to be the attackers. Still, people fear their friends who have bipolar disorder and strangers that show signs of schizophrenia. But next time, try to remember that people with mental illnesses will likely only become violent out of self-defense if they are first subjected to violence.
5) Misconception: Mental illness exists, but it is not common.
Some people acknowledge that mental illness exists, but they don’t think it’s a common problem nor does it likely affect those around them. A recent study by the National Institute of Mental Health shows that 18.5% of American adults—which is equivalent to about 43.8 million people—will suffer from some type of mental illness in any given year. And among adolescents (ages 13 to 18), that number increases to 20%. So, you may not be able to tell that your neighbor has depression, or that your coworker has post-traumatic stress, but that doesn’t mean they’re not suffering and that the mental illness isn’t there. Mental illness affects millions of people worldwide every single day.
Mental illness can be tough to come to terms with, tough to treat, and even tough to understand or talk about. But the truth of the matter is that it does exist. And despite the symptoms and the effects and the stigmas that come with it, your mental illness does not make you any less of a human being. It just might make you a stronger one.