Ten Common Myths about Mental Illness and its truths

Everyone has struggles whether it be a physical ailment or disability, a mental illness, financial issues, or other life issues.  I know many people that have struggled with some form of mental illness, some for many, many years.  What I find that all of us who struggle with mental illness have in common is that many people around us believe at least one (if not several) of these commonly held notions about mental illness. Here’s some of them, and the facts that counter these myths:

  1. MYTH: People who struggle with mental illness are “crazy.”  FACT: This is a hurtful and often, untrue characterization of people who struggle.  The fact is that many of us may be depressed and trying to overcome past traumas.  If you were in our shoes, you’d probably react similarly.  Also, we should try to refrain from using the term “crazy” to describe anyone, because it is similar to using the word “retarded” to describe something or someone who you deem “stupid.”
  2. MYTH: People who are suffering from depression, should just learn to “get over it” or “deal with things better.”  FACT:  This is also a very hurtful myth that a lot of people believe. When I am stressed at work, some people (I won’t name names) think I should “just get over it.” The fact is that people suffering from depression or other mental illnesses are often doing the best they can to do better to avoid the stigma that comes from their illness, but they can’t do it alone.  It’s not like we have an on and off switch that makes the illness go away in only one or two days. It often takes years to overcome. Otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle!  What we need is validation. What we need is understanding, someone to come along side and help us.
  3. MYTH: Taking psychiatric medication is sinful (i.e morally wrong). FACT: I don’t understand why certain people in certain religious circles believe this!  They certainly don’t typically believe this about heart medication, or medication to treat ulcers! If something is wrong with the wiring in your brain, you need to treat it somehow. Therapy doesn’t always work for this, nor is it always effective.  If you take medication for heart problems, for instance, then taking psychiatric medication should also be morally permissible, no questions asked.
  4. MYTH: People who hurt themselves (i.e self-injure) are often doing it for attention. FACT: First of all, many people I know who hurt themselves don’t want the attention. They just want to be loved and understood.  This is why in my own research, I have found that people who self-injure often hide their scars underneath clothing or other things. If they really wanted attention,  they would probably not even bother to hide anything! A lot of my friends I know who struggle with self-injury have a low sense of self-worth and may be self-injuring to relieve unbearable pain and anguish. Again, validation, love and genuine support are the keys to help them be able to stop self-harming.
  5. MYTH: When someone is considering self-harm or suicide, you should always call an ambulance so they can get the help they need. FACT: This is only true if they are actively suicidal or planning to do major self-harm.  Some (but certainly not all) people use this method as a cop-out so that they don’t have to actively support and encourage them themselves. Many people don’t know how or simply don’t really care.  Yes, it can be emotionally difficult to care for a person struggling with these deep issues, and you shouldn’t do it all alone. However, unless the person is actively considering major self-harm or being actively suicidal, calling an ambulance or sending them to the hospital, may create more problems for them in the end than good.  First of all, the mentally ill are often not treated well in hospitals, because people are afraid they will become violent or self-destructive.  However, if we took the time to try to understand and love them better, sending them to the hospital would not be needed. Also, a lot of mentally ill people are in therapy, so if you don’t have the emotional energy needed to support them, actively encourage them to talk to their therapist or doctor before they do anything harmful to themselves.
  6. MYTH: People struggling with depression or anxiety should just “get out more.” FACT: If we could, we would. The truth is these illnesses are often debilitating and disabling. This is often why it is a struggle to “get out and enjoy life.” What we need is guidance and a gradual introduction to the “real world” when we are better and are able.  What we need is encouragement and understanding from loved ones, who will be there when we want to talk about what’s going on inside our minds.
  7. MYTH: (A lot of people may believe this in one form or another, or unconsciously) People with mental illnesses are emotionally “weak” or “lazy.” FACT: This couldn’t be further from the truth! I’ve heard a lot of people imply or even say to me that because I get stressed about certain things or cry sometimes, that I am a “weak” person emotionally. The truth is that people who suffer from mental illnesses are often the ones that have had to deal with the most emotional baggage in their lives. Many have experienced abuse or bullying, or both, during some period in their lives.  Some of them have experienced deep, personal losses.  The fact that we are able to cry and “open” up shows that we are not weak, and in fact, strong and not afraid to be vulnerable to others.  Often, being able to let the feelings come out and talk about things with people, is the first step towards healing and dealing with underlying issues.
  8. MYTH: People suffering from mental illness just need therapy. FACT: Therapy can be very useful and helpful, but it is not a “one-size fits all measure” for everyone suffering from mental illness. Some people have struggled with getting the right therapist because of continuing stigma against their illness. For instance, someone who has a borderline personality might not be understood by a lot of therapists because of the commonly held notion in the medical community that they are very difficult to deal with and understand.  Also, therapy alone is often not the answer. We need not only therapy but often times medication and a strong support system to help us through the tough days.
  9. MYTH: People who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be violent, so we need to put protective measures in place. FACT: This myth irritates me more than some of the other myths out there! Yes, there may be a few mentally ill people who can get violent, but most of them are not violent at all.  To treat everyone who is mentally ill like wild animals needing to be caged is not only perpetuating this myth, but I believe it is inhumane as well.  I have heard of people being chained to their beds even though they wouldn’t hurt even a fly!  Or that they can’t enjoy music because the medical facilitators are afraid they may hurt themselves with earbuds! If one is that afraid, then watch them. Don’t suck the enjoyment out of an already bad and stressful experience for them!
  10. MYTH: Referring to people who struggle with mental illness: “It’s all in their heads.” FACT: Mental illness does not only affect people mentally but physically as well. For instance, in addition to feeling bad mentally,  people with clinical depression often don’t eat or sleep well, can have headaches, cramps, or an upset stomach, or feel much more physically exhausted than usual. (source: http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-causes#1).  Also, people with anxiety disorders often experience physical ailments as well, such as sweaty palms, palpitations, nausea, dry mouth, shortness of breath, and sleeping problems. (source: http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/anxiety-disorders#1-3 )

These are just some of the commonly-held myths about people suffering from mental illness. I think we need to remove stigma about these illnesses and treat everyone, including people afflicted with mental illness, with more love and compassion.  What are other myths you have noticed people believing about mental illness? What can we do to dispel them? Please feel free to discuss in comments. Absolutely NO disparaging comments or your comment will be deleted! Thank you.

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How to Help Someone Who Feels Depressed or Anxious

This has been one of the toughest two days of my life. I was about to give up on almost everything I believed in. I felt no one cared about me, except maybe God and my family.  However, just reading through other people’s blogs, gave me a renewed sense of purpose and passion that I hadn’t felt during that time.  So, a special thank you to my blogging community to give me the strength and the drive to keep on keeping on!

Since there is much stigma and misconceptions in the general society today on what to do (and what not to do) when someone you love or care about feels depressed or anxious, here are some tips that have helped me and many people I care about who get depressed and/or anxious. (Also includes what not to do and/or say to someone who is depressed and/or anxious):

1) Validate what they are going through.– This does not mean always agreeing with them about the lifestyle choices they made or sounding like a parrot to them. That does not help them either! This does mean to listen attentively and offer compassion and love to them. For instance, if the anxious person tells you about what they really fear, instead of ridiculing them or telling them to “toughen up. It’s only_______ (fill in the blank with what they fear),” thank them for having the courage to tell you about their deepest feelings and being vulnerable, because, as I (and many others) can attest, it takes a LOT of courage to be vulnerable like that. Don’t ruin their trust in you!  If they are depressed, a good thing to say to him or her is, ” Your feelings are valid. I am sorry that you are feeling that way. Know that you are not alone though. I care, and is there anything I can do to help you?” This statement does several things: a.) Shows that you care about how the person feels, not just caring about your own feelings. b.) The open-ended question lets the person know that they are allowed to make their own decision about what you can do to help them, and makes them feel less controlled and trapped in whatever situation or situations they may find themselves.

2) Make every effort to be there for them during this difficult time.—It is understandable to be busy with life’s responsibilities, and there is a certain point where it can be too much for one person to be responsible for another’s happiness and comfort. If that is the case, find several other people who can care for or talk to the depressed and/or anxious person during this time. Also, recommend and/or find a licensed counselor or therapist to help them. This way a.) The person knows that they don’t have to fight their illness alone and that several people actually care for them.  b.) The responsibility of being there and helping the person does not fall on only one person, which if it were, would cause compassion fatigue.  However, if that is not the case, make every effort to be there for the person suffering and to care for them, even if it is just offering a listening ear.

3) Do not tell the anxious or depressed person, to “get over it” or “toughen up”. –Many people (including myself) who struggle with depression or anxiety problems are already doing the best they can to cope with what they are dealing. Again, telling them to “toughen up” or “get over it” only invalidates what they are going through and implying that they are not trying hard enough to cope with their illness. A better thing to tell a depressed or anxious person is, “I will help you through whatever you are going through. You are not alone,” and then commit to being there for him or her.

4) If the depressed person is having suicidal thoughts, do not accuse them of being selfish or uncaring.–While that may have a grain of truth (or not), accusing the depressed person of being “selfish” or telling them to “think of others first,” does not help them at all! It actually makes the depression worse because a lot of people who are that upset or sad a.) already don’t feel good about themselves. b.) aren’t usually in the mindset where they can think about others right now.  Also, someone with those kinds of thoughts often does think about others, just not in a way that makes sense to us.

5) Help them find their purpose and passion in life again.—DISCLAIMER: This may not be a viable option for everyone, but it CAN work for some people. Use your own judgment. This applies to loved ones with people who suffer from anxiety and those who suffer from depression.  This can be a simple as having joy and purpose in your own life and/or caring enough to let the person who is suffering participate in the joys of your life. For instance, if you enjoy cooking for others, you can encourage the person who is suffering to participate in what you are doing. It can also be encouraging them in the positive qualities and abilities you see in them and helping them find the motivation to cultivate them again. For instance, if you see that he or she is a normally very generous person, you can encourage him or her to give away some things he/she no longer needs but that can be useful to others in need. If he or she likes to write, encourage them to cultivate that interest again. Remind them of the positive impact they already have on others, and encourage them not to give up.

6) If they are anxious, help them gradually overcome their fears.—For instance, if the anxious person is afraid of socializing because they fear what people may think of them,  encourage them to meet one trustworthy person. If they do well in that situation, bring several people to hang out with them. Then, take them to a restaurant or some other venue with more people.  However, don’t rush them into interacting. Do it slowly.–This may take a few months or even years to accomplish.  Be patient with them, and reassure them (with both your words and actions) that they can trust you.

7.) If you are religious or spiritual, pray for them.–I personally believe in the power of prayer.  If you do too, I would suggest fervently and regularly praying for the depressed or anxious people in your life. Pray that they will be surrounded by people who care about and love them genuinely. Pray that they will find joy and hope in their lives again, and not be riddled with anxiety, depression, anger, and/or hurt.  Pray that they will be delivered from their illness and find wholeness again.

What do you suggest in helping encourage an anxious or depressed person? What do you suggest we not do? Why? Please feel free to comment below.  Please no disparaging or disrespectful comments, or they will not be approved. Thank you.

 

 

How to be Genuine

This is a kind of a “Part 2” of a post I already did called, “Taking off our masks.”

Many people long to be known for who they truly are AND be loved and accepted for who they truly are. Some people are people-pleasers who strive to do or say anything (or almost anything) in order to be accepted or loved.  It is sad, when, despite everything they have done, people STILL won’t love or accept them, OR they accept a fake version of them, discarding the real, flesh-and-bone person in the process.  The good news is that we don’t have to strive to be accepted or loved if we know how to be genuine, even if not everyone on the planet even likes  or gives a care about us.

Barriers to being genuine:

1.) A society, institution, and/or individual who doesn’t allow for emodiversity, which is the abundance of emotions, both positive and negative being allowed to be expressed.

For instance, at work, associates are often not allowed or are strongly discouraged from crying, because it’s deemed “unprofessional” and “unbecoming.” But, according to the December 2016 edition of Reader’s Digest, a study done by researchers Oliver John of UC Berkeley and James Gross of Stanford University, found that bus drivers who suppressed their anger or sadness, had their anger or sadness intensify (i.e…worsen)! (Marsh, Readers Digest, 45) That is probably because they were unconsciously feeling guilty and uncomfortable because of not being able to be genuine enough to express the reality of how they were really feeling. An online friend of mine aptly described crying as “the peeing of the heart.”  Imagine, if at work or school, you weren’t allowed to use the bathroom because it was deemed “inappropriate” or “unprofessional.” It would be a mess!  Maybe if we allowed for more emodiversity, including crying or sadness at work and school, then I think we would solve half our interpersonal or personal emotional issues right there. I’m not saying, cry in such a way that it interrupts the teachers, students, clientele, and/or other associates. But maybe if we were to have a designated safe place where people could cry or get upset without fear of retaliation or hurting themselves or others, much like smokers now have a designated area where they can smoke, that would work MUCH better than not allowing people to cry at all!

To add to that, often we are forced by societal institutions, even religious  institutions, to “put a smile on our face” even if we don’t feel happy. I’ve heard numerous times (I don’t know how many) said to me things to the effect of “Put a smile on your face,” and “Don’t worry. Be happy,” when I was actually feeling depressed and/or angry.  Needless to say, that advice didn’t really help me at all! Research has shown that when we are forced to feel happy (or fake-happy), our actual moods actually became worse!  Many times in the sales or helping professions or even in religious institutions, we are told that smiling makes others happy, but if it is forced or fake, who does it really help when our actual moods deteriorate anyway?

Being able to be emodiverse , according to already-existing research gathered by Jason Marsh in Yes! Magazine published by Reader’s Digest in December 2016, is consistently linked to lower depression and had a healthier lifestyle than those who didn’t. (Marsh, Readers Digest, 48).

2.) Lying or being dishonest with who we are as a person.

That means exaggerating our accomplishments or just straight out telling people things that are not true about ourselves.  People may then have an inflated (or deflated-depending on the lie we may tell) sense of who we are, but they will never have the chance to accept and love the real you, and you will never have the chance to improve yourself, a lose-lose situation for both of you.

3.) Being arrogant

Along with lying, as sign of ingenuity, I have found, is being arrogant and/or displaying behaviors and words that make it seem that you think you are better than everyone (or almost everyone) else. I believe, with the exception of God, no one is perfect, and making it seem like you are, is a sign of being dis-genuine. For example, when someone confronts you about something you did wrong, rather than apologizing, admitting, and/or repenting of that error, you get upset and blame him or her instead. Also, when someone compliments you making it seem like somehow you “deserve” it more than everyone else.Connected to this, another way we are dis-genuine is feeling entitled to certain things that are really privileges. For instance, telling your boss that you deserve a raise and demanding it when you have done little to earn it, or even if you have done enough demanding it anyway, instead of telling him or her nicely that you want a raise.

4.)Trying to hide our flaws and/or perceived issues from others

When we try to compensate or hide things from people, we not only get a sense of inadequacy (from people being fooled into think we are better than we really are), but we are not being genuine either.  But when we are emodiverse and open about our mistakes and issues to others,  I have found often that it then frees others to open up and talk about their issues and flaws, because when we are open about our own shortcomings, we are in effect saying to them that it is safe for them to open up and that we will most likely (I hope.) that we will listen and empathize with them without judgement or retribution.

To summarize: How to be genuine

1.) Be emodiverse and allow others the same.  That is, allow yourself and others to express their emotions openly and without fear of reprisal or retribution.  That, however, does NOT mean that you allow yourself or others to get away with acting abusive in any way, whether it be emotional, verbal, physical, sexual or in any other way. But that does mean you allow people to cry if they need to or allow them to express anger or other so-called negative emotions, so as long as they are not hurting or trying to hurt themselves or others.

2.) Being honest with who we are a person.

3.) Being humble. That means never demanding more than we honestly think we deserve. That also means admitting our flaws and imperfections and accepting and loving others despite them.

4.) Being open about our issues and flaws with others. That does not mean you have to share everything with everyone; after all, that may not be wise. However, that does mean trusting at least a few people with our issues and flaws, and asking for help to change and solve these issues and flaws.  It also means that we are open to others telling us about their flaws and emphatically listening to them.

Being genuine may be difficult and costly, but at least I have found that it is well worth it because not only is genuineness a valued asset in our day, but it is also rare and beautiful.