We hear a lot of things said about mental health – unfortunately, many of which are untrue. These misconceptions can fuel stigma and make it harder for someone to reach out for help.
Now is the time to promote a healthier dialogue about mental health, encourage people to share their struggles and seek support. Here, we set the record straight on some common mental health myths.
MYTH: Negative emotions are bad and a sign that we’re “broken.”
"Negative” emotions, like anxiety or sadness, are normal and serve essential functions in helping us solve problems and navigate towards a meaningful, happy life.
For example, anxiety can be a warning bell of impending danger. Sadness usually signals that there’s something important to us that’s missing. When these emotions show up, our first reaction is often to get rid of them. But, it’s this reaction that’s "broken" – not the emotion itself. We need to listen to these signals, as they are our guide on building a contented life.
The complicating factor is that sometimes these signals are false alarms. In other words, we may have distorted thoughts that lead us to be sad or anxious about things when we don’t need to be. A big part of taking charge of our mental health (e.g., through therapy) is learning how to listen to genuine signals, and how to identify and cast aside false alarms.
MYTH: To be happy, we need to avoid pain.
Many people believe that happiness is the end result of ridding ourselves of emotional pain. But, in a feverish pursuit to avoid pain at all costs, we can end up feeling numb, apathetic or depressed. The truth of the matter is that working through all our feelings, including painful ones like shame, anxiety or rejection, is part of our journey to living an authentic, joyful life.
MYTH: "I'm not ready for the life I want.”
Another common misperception is that “once I take care of problem X, I can start living my best life." The reality is that, in almost all cases, feeling better comes with time and practice in pursuing the things you want but are afraid to face – not the other way around. People generally have the tools they need to take at least the first step towards the life they want. Avoid avoiding!
MYTH: If you’re depressed, you can just “snap out of it.”
Depression is not a choice. It’s a complex condition involving biological, genetic and environmental factors. Like any health condition, it isn’t something we can simply pull ourselves out of. Many people use the word “depressed” to describe a low mood or periods of sadness – which is something we can often pull ourselves out of.
One of the most defining symptoms of depression is anhedonia, or the inability to experience pleasure in the things you used to enjoy. Even getting out of bed isn’t possible some days for a depressed person, because they see no point. While you might feel helpless to see a loved one struggle with depression, resist the urge to tell them “snap out of it” or “think positive.” This can actually do more harm than good, fuelling feelings of shame and worthlessness.
MYTH: You can't recover from mental illness.
Nope, not even close to true. About 1 in 5 Canadians in any given year suffers from mental illness. By age 40, about 50% will have suffered from mental illness at some point in their lives. Most go on to live healthy, functioning lives. After all, society functions.
As with our physical health, we can all expect periods in which our mental health gets better or worse. Our resilience to get through difficult times means any one of us can overcome mental health struggles.
Shifting the dialogue
Let’s all continue our commitment to help correct untruths of mental health. Being suspicious of generalizations and judgments is a great place to start.