5 Common Misconceptions About Mental Illness (& How to Improve Your Mental Wellbeing)
Currently, the field of psychology has advanced in precise diagnosis (i.e. determining what is wrong) and treatments based on scientific research.
However, mental health disorders still hold a negative connotation because they often come across as confusing and frightening.
This article contains some common misconceptions about mental health and how to connect with yourself for mental wellbeing.
Ready? Let’s get started!
- Common Mental Illness Misconceptions
- Misconception 1: Substance Abuse, Anxiety, And Depression Are Not “Mental Illnesses”
- Misconception 2: It Is Not Possible To Have A Little Bit Of Mental Illness – You Either Have It Or You Don’t
- Misconception 3: Mental Illness Is The Result of Poor Parenting
- Misconception 4: Mental Illness Leads to Violence
- Misconception 5: Black People Don’t Suffer From Mental Illnesses
- How to Connect With Yourself for Mental Wellbeing?
Common Mental Illness Misconceptions
Misconception 1: Substance Abuse, Anxiety, And Depression Are Not “Mental Illnesses”
Many people don’t want to be called ‘mentally ill’. Some people choose the labels ‘abnormality’, ‘condition’ and ‘syndrome.’
Other people prefer ‘disorder’. But according to psychiatrists, ‘disorder’ and ‘illness’ mean the same thing.
The UK government says that one in four of its citizens will develop a ‘mental illness’ during their lifetime. These figures include the big three – substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
Some people choose to distinguish mental illness from severe mental illness, with the latter group made up of people who lose touch with reality.
Misconception 2: It Is Not Possible To Have A Little Bit Of Mental Illness – You Either Have It Or You Don’t
Officially, a condition, such as OCD, depression, bipolar, etc. is either present or it’s not. It is no more possible to be a little bit depressed than it is to be a little bit pregnant or a little bit dead.
You are either depressed or you are not.
There are some valid reasons for this distinction. In order to monitor illnesses and decide who is eligible for treatment, professionals have to set certain requirements.
But in the real world, things aren’t that simple.
Subclinical disorders are everywhere.
A person who’s struggling with depression or anxiety, might not satisfy the characteristics, and might not recognize that they have a mental health problem. This can mean the issue won’t get talked about, and support and treatment won’t be sought. Things can go from bad to worse.
Just as autism is now considered a spectrum of related syndromes, so other disorders can sit on their own spectrum, and require as much attention as an official diagnosis.
The conceptual shift to view certain disorders as a spectrum of related conditions rather than an isolated problem can help understand those affected better, and can help them to understand themselves.
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Misconception 3: Mental Illness Is The Result of Poor Parenting
When there is an illness, the first question the attending doctor is asked is typically either how did this happen or what caused this.
Knowing the underlying cause somehow seems to make things more tolerable.
When parents learn that their child has a mental illness, the first question that comes up to their mind is, “What did we do wrong? Where did we screw up? We tried to be the best parents we could be, and yet it was not good enough.”
But mental dis-order can grow from order.
The fact that someone struggles with anxiety doesn’t imply fault more than struggling with diabetes doesn’t.
While it’s true that many mental disorders can develop from childhood maltreatment or abuse, one does not cause the other in all cases.
Someone who grew up in a healthy family and who was properly nurtured might struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder or depression just like a child who grew up in an abusive environment.
Misconception 4: Mental Illness Leads to Violence
Sometimes, we use certain terms that ascribe negative traits to people we don’t really know, such as that woman is a weirdo, he is creepy, etc, especially when it comes to those with mental illness.
A study from 2012 conducted by Parker Magin and colleagues showed that almost 30 percent of people in a medical waiting room said that they would be uncomfortable sharing it with someone who has schizophrenia.
12 percent said they would be uncomfortable sharing with someone diagnosed with depression.
Some argue that the stigmatization of mental illness can be considered a ‘second disease’ for the mentally unwell, given the way others treat them.
This leads to increased anxiety, stress, and lower quality of life.
But is this warranted? Do people with mental illness constitute a real threat?
An in-depth study, funded partly by the US National Research Council, by Mark Moore and colleagues, showed that in the case of lethal school violence, ‘serious mental health problems, including schizophrenia, clinical depression, and personality disorders, surfaced after the shootings’ for most of the shooters.
In other words, mental illness in itself does not seem to be the cause of lashing out. Instead, it is part of a complex array of problems that include isolation, lack of parental support, bullying, substance abuse, and easy access to guns.
Another study of offenders with mental illnesses by Jillian Peterson and colleagues from 2014, revealed that of the 429 crimes they coded, 4 percent related directly to a psychosis (including symptoms of schizophrenia), 3 percent related to depression, and 10 percent related to bipolar disorder.
The authors of the study concluded, ‘Psychiatric symptoms relate weakly to criminal behavior.’
In fact, it is often the same kinds of circumstances that lead to violence in general that also lead to violence for the mentally ill.
So where does the connection between crime and mental illness come from?
One factor seems to be substance abuse.
People with mental illness, such as schizophrenia or depression are more likely than the average person to take drugs or engage in problematic drinking, in an attempt to escape the awful symptoms they are experiencing.
A study from 2015 by Ragnar Nesvåg and colleagues revealed that the rate of diagnosed substance-use disorders was at 25.1 percent for schizophrenia, 20.1 percent for bipolar disorder and 10.9 percent for depression.
In this sense, mental illness can be a risk factor for substance abuse, which in turn is a risk factor for violence.
It seems that substance abuse is the link here, not the mental illness per se. Mental illness alone is not an indicator of violent tendencies.
This means that the emotional and physical distance we keep from people with mental illness is unfounded but also devastating for those affected.
Misconception 5: Black People Don’t Suffer From Mental Illnesses
A study conducted in the early ’90s, church pastors, asked about their opinions regarding Black suicide, responded by saying that suicide was a “denial of Black identity and culture.”
The overarching message from the pastors was that suicide is “a white thing” and that Black people are resilient.
This assumption about suicide was embraced throughout the Black community, according to the same study.
However, studies indicate that the suicide rate among Black adolescents has increased by 73 percent while for young Black males, injury from suicide attempt rose by 122 percent — indicating they are using more lethal means according to the executive summary of a report by the Congressional Black Caucus, “Ring the Alarm: The Crisis of Black Youth Suicide in America”.
This, in itself, implies an epidemic in Black mental health.
Often, the psychological distress goes unchecked. Despite being in pain, many black people don’t recognize their pain as a crisis and don’t reach out for help. They assume that they are supposed to have the strength to handle whatever life throws at them.
Recognizing the dire state of Black mental health requires changing the idea of what it means to be emotionally healthy.
Just because you were able to get the boys fed and off to school and get yourself to work, does not mean that all is well and that you can’t accomplish your daily tasks while feeling so sad and empty.
How to Connect With Yourself for Mental Wellbeing?
Why Is It Important To Get In Touch With Yourself?
1. Self-Awareness Is Key To Mental Health
Without self-awareness, you’ll find yourself depending on other people, events, and objects to define yourself.
You end up defining yourself in terms of your relationships with others and struggling to deal with your difficult emotions.
As a result, your identity becomes vulnerable to self-deprecation, anxiety, and unhappiness.
2. It Is Not A Selfish Endeavor
Improving your mental health and focusing on your personal growth is the opposite of selfish.
You can only contribute the best of yourself to society when you begin to understand yourself and find inner peace.
You can accomplish this is by sitting down with yourself like you would do with a friend, and ask: how am I feeling right now?
Once you’ve identified each separate feeling, try to identify which event or thought might have caused these emotions.
What Is Your Inner Self?
The inner self, also referred to as the “true self,” is a person’s internal identity.
This identity is distinct from identities defined by external factors and is closely linked to the person’s values, beliefs, and goals.
The main way to tune into the body and align with the inner self is to raise your awareness.
How to Raise Your Self-Awareness?
#1. Learn to Quiet Your Mind and Listen Within
There are many ways to help you get in touch with your inner self, including deep listening, relaxed breathing, meditation, and prayers.
1. Deep Listening And Relaxed Breathing
One exercise to practice deep listening is to listen to a favorite piece of calming, classical music with your eyes closed. Try to identify the particular instruments.
As you lose yourself in the music, don’t be surprised if you start having inspiring thoughts and subtle pieces of information leap to mind.
When this happens, graciously view it as an introduction to your inner self and deepest desires.
Relaxed breathing can make you receptive to your deeper awareness.
You can also combine deep listening and relaxed breathing.
To meditate, you don’t have to sit upright and start chanting “Om”.
You can meditate while enjoying a walk, cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc.
The key to entering into a meditative state is to stop thinking about the future and the past and focus on your breathing as you enjoy the world around you – practicing giving your full, undivided attention to what you’re doing at the moment.
Praying isn’t just about pouring your heart out. You need to also remember to thank your Creator for all of the blessings in your life as well.
Prayers of gratitude help you raise your awareness of all of the love and support that are already present in your life.
#2. Shift Your Attention
In order to raise your awareness, you need to shift your attention one hundred and eighty degrees and look inside your internal landscape.
When you become aware, moment by moment, of what you are feeling and the decisions you are making, you face the most unhealthy parts of yourself—the parts that blame, criticize, judge, resent, envy, and hate others and yourself.
When you do that, you learn to see your inner experiences as primary, and your external circumstances as secondary.
You begin to understand that getting a new partner, a larger home, or a better car are all ways of pursuing external power, but that doesn’t make you feel more whole and secure.
Instead, you shift your focus to uncover, acknowledge, and change the causes of insecurity.
Practical Exercise 1 – Change Your Intention
Spend some quiet time. Consider the things in your life, what you eat, what you do throughout the day.
Ask yourself, “Do I do this for survival? To feel more secure? To feel better about myself? To feel better than others?”
For every Yes, ask yourself, “How could I see the things that I do or have differently?”
For instance, instead of exercising to make yourself feel good, or to feel more secure, choose to exercise with the intention of taking care of your body.
The act is the same, but the quality of the satisfaction you derive from it will be different.
Instead of having a partner to feel better about yourself, or safer, choose to be with them to enjoy a true partnership.
Make it a habit to ask yourself Before doing anything, “What is my intention for doing this?”
When you become your own source of worthiness, you will still eat, exercise, buy clothes, and get into relationships. The difference is that you will not do these things to control or impress others.
You will live true to yourself, without fear.
#3. Feed Your Inner Self
It’s not hard to understand how one can lose touch with his deepest desires.
Our culture encourages people from childhood to put others before themselves and to call any personal interest or self-care activity “selfish”.
As a result, most people don’t know how to feed their inner selves.
1. Discovering What Feeds Your Inner Self
The following are some ideas:
- Sport (watching or taking part)
- Enjoying music/attending shows and concerts
- Watching a movie/going to the cinema
- Reading books, magazines
- Listening to podcasts
- Practicing relaxation techniques/yoga/meditation
- Learning something new/class
- Planning and cooking regular meals
- DIY projects
Spending time with people you like
- Seeing people you like
- Phoning or texting friends
- Going to church, mosque, temple or synagogue
- Going to a clubs and support groups
- Spending time with your pets (e.g. walking the dog)
- Looking after the garden
Write down your answer then ask yourself, “Why am I not doing more of these things?”
If you feel disconnected from your inner self, start by paying close attention to your day-to-day life.
Recognize the moments when you feel most engaged and peacefully involved. What were you doing? These moments are when your inner self is inspired.
Identify the activities that leave you with a sense of contentment and satisfaction, these activities are in line with your deepest desires, and doing more of them will help you access your inner self.
2. “If I weren’t afraid, I’d . . .”
You can also try to take a few minutes every week and fill in the following: “If I weren’t afraid, I’d . . .”
For example, “If I weren’t afraid, I’d take a day off from work and relax.” “If I weren’t afraid, I’d call my mother and tell her I love her.”
By doing this, you raise your awareness and allow your inner self to speak in a free and uncensored manner. After a few sessions, you’ll discover what nurtures and feeds your inner self.
3. Freeing Yourself From Guilt
Dome people know what their inner self wants, but feel guilty to allow themselves such indulgence.
For instance, a busy mother who loves nature might deny herself a walk in the park because she feels that other obligations in her life are more important.
Feeding your inner self doesn’t have to mean that you’re going to neglect other obligations in your life. A guilt-free Half-an-hour walk in the park every now and then can be all you need.
A little can go a long way when it comes to being sensitive and responsive to your inner self.
The inner peace you find after feeding your inner self will help you perform more effectively in other areas of your life.
Practical Exercise 2 – Spend Time With Yourself
Set a free period of, 15 to 20 minutes every week where you answer to no one but yourself.
During this time, allow yourself to do something you enjoy, such as spending time in the garden, or simply daydreaming—guilt-free.
Gradually add more time to that period and move up from once a week to twice a week or more.
You may have to let others, like family members and especially children, know that this is an important time that needs to be respected.
What’s Next? 25 Easy Self Care Day Ideas At Home
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- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side, © 2018 by Julia Shaw. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Life Is Trichy, © 2014 by Lindsey Muller. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, © 2020 by Rheeda Walker. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book The Man Who Couldn’t Stop, © 2014 by David Adam. All rights reserved.
- Portions of this article were adapted from the book Healing Depression Without Medication, © 2020 by Jodie Skillicorn. All rights reserved.