You’re Not Weak and You’re Not Alone: Breaking the Stigma About Mental Health Disorders

A TV star who makes $1 million per episode and lives in a Beverly Hills mansion. Your next door neighbor with the tidy lawn and the permanent smile on his face. The young child who is only 8 years old and shouldn’t have a care in the world.

You might never know it by looking at them, or even by having a conversation. They seem fine. But each one of them could be silently suffering from a mental health disorder.

That’s because mental health conditions — such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or eating disorders — are extremely common. Anyone can have a mental health disorder, whether they are rich or poor, young or old, are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or are struggling to maintain a job. Yet these conditions often hide in plain sight.

Why So Secretive?

More people have shared their conditions, but there is still a stigma. If you’ve been diagnosed, you may hesitate to talk about it or hide it altogether. At times, it can feel like everything is spiraling out of your control, leaving you feeling helpless, isolated, or even ashamed. Unfortunately, this can make your condition even worse and stop you from getting the help you need.

But the truth is, there is nothing to be embarrassed about. You have nothing to be ashamed of, you’re not alone, and you can get better.

    Fast Facts About Mental Illness in the US

  1. 1 in 5 adults has a mental illness.
  2. 1 in 25 adults has a serious mental illness that interferes with their daily life.
  3. 1 in 5 children ages 13 to 18 will have a serious mental illness at some point in their life.
  4. Nearly 7% of adults have a major depressive episode each year.
  5. Serious mental illnesses cost the US nearly $200 billion in lost earnings each year.

Here’s the truth behind 7 myths about mental health conditions.

Myth #1: “Having a mental health condition means I’m weak.”

This is one of the most well-known stigmas, and also one of the most untrue. Having a mental health condition does not mean that you’re weak, lazy, or a bad person.

Just like any sickness or disease, a mental health disorder is a medical condition — it can mean that something in your body isn’t working as it should.

And just like other medical problems, you can choose to get help to overcome your condition — which is definitely a sign of strength.

Myth #2: “It’s all my fault that I have a mental health condition.”

There are several reasons why you may develop a mental health disorder that may not be your fault, such as:

  • Genetics: Many mental health disorders, such as addiction or schizophrenia, tend to run in families. If you have a blood relative who has a mental health disorder, you may be at a higher risk for having one yourself.
  • Exposure to harmful substances before birth: Exposure to certain substances — such as alcohol or drugs — while you’re developing in the womb may cause mental health problems later in life.
  • Brain chemistry: Neurotransmitters — chemicals that occur naturally in your brain and are involved in regulating mood — can become unbalanced. This doesn’t necessarily cause mental health disorders, but it can increase your risk for certain conditions, such as depression.
  • Traumatic brain injury: Traumatic brain injury occurs when a bump, jolt, or blow to the head causes brain damage — and it can cause mental health problems.
  • Emotional trauma: Major emotional trauma, such as losing a loved one, surviving abuse, having a near-death experience, or fighting in combat can increase your risk for mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Myth #3: “I can’t prevent a mental health condition, so why bother?”

There are risk factors for mental health conditions that are in your control.

For example, a buildup of stress can increase your risk for an anxiety disorder. If you are constantly working 60-hour weeks, and generally just doing way too much, then taking something off of your plate — or at least not putting anything else on it — could prevent the stress from leading to full-blown anxiety.

Or, if you’re obese, you may have a higher risk of depression. While losing weight and becoming more physically active may not magically chase depression away, it can help you lower your risk for developing it.

Myth #4: “My mental health condition is controlling me — and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

When your mental health condition is at its worst, it can feel like it’s completely consuming you.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are many treatments to help you manage symptoms and to stop the condition from interfering with your everyday life. You may use just one treatment or a combination of a few.

One of the most common treatments is psychotherapy, where a mental health professional — such as a psychologist or social worker — helps you explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to improve your well-being. The therapist may try a specific form of psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors.

Additionally, your physician may recommend other treatments, such as:

  • Medication, like antidepressants, antipsychotics, or mood stabilizers
  • Exercise
  • A healthy diet
  • Mindfulness activities, such as yoga or meditation
  • Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which causes changes in brain chemistry and can reverse symptoms of depression or mania in some people

Myth #5: “Medication is the ‘easy way out.'”

Mental health conditions can’t always be controlled by prescription medications. But when they can, medication may be a lifesaver.

For example, take a look at medications used to treat depression. Do a quick online search and you will find countless stories of people who credit the medications with saving their lives.

There’s also data to back it up. A recent study looked at adults with depression around the world. Some adults were given one of 21 different antidepressants, while others were given placebos (fake drugs that look like real drugs but don’t actually have any medication in them). In every single case, the antidepressants were more effective — meaning they reduced depression symptoms by 50 percent or more — than placebos.

Most people wouldn’t think of insulin to control diabetes or anticonvulsants to stop seizures as unnecessary or as easy ways out, so there’s no reason to think of mental health medications that way.

Myth #6: “People with mental health disorders are violent and dangerous.”

It’s extremely rare for mental health disorders to cause violent behavior. Occasionally, children with schizophrenia or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) act aggressively, but this is uncommon and generally not dangerous.

The vast majority of people with mental health conditions — including the ones that increase the risk of violent behavior — are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. This is even the case with the most severe instances of mental health disorders.

In fact, only about 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be linked to severe mental health disorders, and people with severe disorders are more than 10 times more likely than those without such conditions to be the victims of violent crimes — not the perpetrators.

Myth #7: “People will judge me if they find out.”

First off, you don’t have to tell anyone. Your health is private, and you’re under no obligation to disclose something so personal.

However, telling others — especially those closest to you — may help them understand what you’re going through and build up your support system. It can even make you feel as if a weight is being lifted off of your shoulders.

And, if someone finds out that you have a mental health disorder, they might open up to you and tell you that they have one, too. You can lean on each other for support, and feel less alone in your fight against your condition.

The decision is entirely up to you. Don’t pressure yourself either way. And remember that it’s always okay to change your mind.

Getting Help

Getting help for a mental health condition is like giving yourself a gift. It can help you control symptoms and lead you and your loved ones to feeling normal again.

When you have heart disease, diabetes, or a nasty bout of the flu, you probably don’t think twice about going to the doctor. Why should it be any different for a mental health disorder?

To find out how behavioral health services can help you if you are struggling with a mental health condition, call (785) 270-4600 to schedule an appointment at Stormont Vail’s Behavioral Health Center.

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