Around the world, nearly one billion people live with mental illnesses. Every 40 seconds, someone dies from suicide and depression is now recognised as a leading cause of illness and disability among children and adolescents.

All of this was true, even before COVID-19. Now, we are seeing the consequences of the pandemic on people’s mental well-being, and this is just the beginning. Many groups, including older adults, children and people with existing mental health conditions are at risk of considerable medium- and long-term ill-health if action is not taken. Yet many of these actions are pursued in the dark or patients seeking help are still heavily stigmatized.

Sadly, these significant stigmas attached to mental health conditions, much rely on old-fashioned thinking and outdated assumptions. As with many things in life, the more information we are armed with, the less likely we are to allow myths to colour our opinions.

In order to say that it is okay to talk about mental illness, we must first remind ourselves that mental illness can affect anyone, is not the result of character, personal defects, or poor upbringing and are treatable. When we can accurately point out, name and define mental illness, we can have a common vocabulary to talk about it. By defining, we demystify it.

It is up to us, the community, the health care professionals and the media to educate others and set the record straight.

Here are some of the common misconceptions people make and what you need to know.

MYTH 1. Evil spirits cause mental illnesses – FALSE

In the not-so-distant past, society shunned people with mental health conditions. Some people believed that evil spirits or divine retribution were responsible for mental illness. Although this way of thinking has been extricated from society in much of the world, it still casts a long shadow.

MYTH 2. Mental health problems are permanent – FALSE

A mental health diagnosis is not necessarily a “life sentence”. Some people might experience episodes, between which they return to their version of “normal”. Others may find treatments, medication or talking therapies; that restore balance to their lives.

MYTH 3. Mental health problems are a sign of weakness – FALSE

This is no truer than saying that a broken leg is a sign of weakness. Mental health disorders are illnesses, not signs of poor character. Similarly, people with, for instance, depression, cannot “snap out of it” any more than someone with diabetes or psoriasis can immediately recover from their condition. If anything, the opposite is true: Fighting a mental health condition takes a great deal of strength.

MYTH 4. Having a mental illness means you are “crazy.” – FALSE

It’s plain and simple, having a mental illness does not mean you are “crazy.” It means you are vulnerable. It means you have an illness with challenging symptoms, the same as someone with an illness like diabetes. While mental illness might alter your thinking, destabilize your moods or skew your perception of reality, that doesn’t mean you are “crazy.” It means you are human and are susceptible to sickness and illness, the same as any other person.

MYTH 5. Psychiatric medications are bad – FALSE

People tend to believe that psychiatric medicine is harmful or they believe that psych meds are simply “happy pills” and “an easy way out” for those with mental illness to avoid dealing with their problems. Again, this is simply not true.

For many with mental illness, medication is necessary, just like it would be for a diabetic taking insulin. For some individuals with mental illness, medication is needed for survival. For others, like those who have mild to moderate depression, anxiety, or ADHD, medication can help ease symptoms, so they can function normally. And having regular therapy combined with medication can greatly improve one’s quality of life.

Let’s change the world together one step at a time.

In summary, mental health conditions are common, but treatment is available. We must all work together to remove the myths and stigma attached to mental disorders. Although society’s understanding of mental health issues has come on leaps and bounds compared with just a decade ago, we still have mountains to climb. It’s important that we prevent societal constructs from framing people as violent or “crazy” for having an illness that is beyond their control.

Look out for HEALTH PLUS every Tuesday for more informative and healthful articles. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic, please email [email protected]