25 Dangerous Myths About Your Mental Health You Need to Stop Believing
Are anxiety and worry the same thing? These mental health misconceptions may be hurting you.
Many people doubt the complexity and severity of mental health issues because they usually can't be seen with the naked eye. And with so much stigma surrounding mental illness, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. But while you can rest assured that your mental health challenges are not "all in your head," these common mental health myths might be. To help dispel some rumors and misinformation, we've rounded up the most common mental health myths professionals say they've come across, and why perpetuating these false notions can be extremely harmful.
You can be "cured" of a mental illness.
Mental health problems are not a simple fix like say, a broken leg would be. Mollie Birney, a clinical coach and recovery consultant in Los Angeles, says one of the biggest mental health myths she sees perpetuated is the idea that someone can just "get rid" of the parts of themselves they struggle with.
"The truth is that freedom isn't about amputating those parts of ourselves, it's about integrating those parts, and building a relationship with them, so that, for example, you have your anxiety, rather than it has you," she says. Birney worries that too many people are desperately chasing the "marketable lie" that certain kinds of products or treatments can simply cure them of their depression, anxiety, and trauma. Instead, she says these things can help change your relationship with your issues to better manage them.
You'll never need more help once you have dealt with a problem.
And if you do seek mental health treatment and "feel better," that doesn't mean you'll never need to seek help again. Washington, D.C.-based psychotherapist Meira Ellias, LCSW-C, says that treatment is not a straight line. Just because you have "graduated" from treatment once, doesn't mean you should be able to always deal with your mental health yourself.
"Just like life is not a straight line, neither is getting help," she says. "Life has its ups and downs, and sometimes it knocks you over the head—maybe a death of someone close to you, a trauma, getting fired, or even living through a global pandemic." All these things and more may cause you to need to seek out further help, and there's nothing wrong with that.
If you need help, you're weaker than other people.
Many people misinterpret the need for mental health assistance as a "weakness or a character flaw," says psychiatrist Hong Yin, MD, with New Frontiers Psychiatric. This couldn't be further from the truth, she says.
"If anything, seeking help and admitting the areas you're struggling with displays incredible character and bravery," Yin explains. "Seeking the assistance of a mental health professional is a positive step where people can acknowledge their need for acquiring tools that can provide them with a stronger foundation in life."
Mental health issues excuse a person's bad behaviors.
Struggling with mental health can be extremely challenging for many people. However, the idea that those facing mental health issues can behave however they please reflects poorly on the community as a whole, according to Pennsylvania-based counselor Eric Patterson, LPC, who writes for Choosing Therapy.
"A major misconception is that mental health issues excuse a person's unwanted or undesirable thoughts and behaviors," he says. "Even though no one asks for a mental disorder, they can, in most situations, take steps towards addressing and changing their life. Therapy and medications are effective to those who choose to participate."
Someone who struggles with their mental health is selfish.
However, that doesn't mean people can just dismiss the challenges of someone with mental illness. Since it's not usually visible, many people pass judgements on those who are open about mental health struggles, sometimes suggesting they are selfish—especially if they struggle with addiction issues.
"For some reason or another, some people believe that those with mental health problems are not, in fact, ill," says Daniel Dolowicz, addiction specialist at 1000 Islands Wellness and Treatment Centre. "This is not only disrespectful but discourteous as well. Mental illness is the same as any other health sickness. Unfortunately, there are only a few with mental health illnesses who can block this noise out, as many others cannot. This stigma around mental health only aggravates the situation even more."
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is just the result of bad parenting.
Regrettably, many people judge the parents for children's mental health issues, especially when it comes to behavioral disorders like ADHD. If a child can't behave, many people think it's just because their parents can't control them. Not only is this myth harmful to the parents—it's also harmful toward a child's ability to get help.
"Adding shame to an already difficult situation prevents a parent from trusting their instincts, supporting their child in the way they need support, and seeking help," says Elaine Taylor-Klaus, PCC, parenting coach and founder of ImpactADHD.
Good parenting can prevent any mental illness.
Of course, ADHD is not the only mental illness parents get blamed for. In fact, many people think that being a "better" parent will prevent their child from developing a mental illness.
"Many illnesses have a genetic and biologic component," says Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and associate professor of psychiatry at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. "A child can have a wonderful upbringing but still suffer from some mental illness. Parents may refuse to recognize and seek treatment for their child's mental health symptoms because they feel it is an indictment of their parenting."
Anxiety is the same thing as being worried.
Since worrying is a common symptom of anxiety, many people assume "worrying" and "anxiety" are the same thing. However, Taylor-Klaus explains that while anyone can experience a moment or moments of "worry," not everyone struggles with anxiety.
"Worry is a normal human emotion," she says. "Anxiety is worry on steroids when there's nothing really to worry about. Telling someone with anxiety 'just don't think that way' is tantamount to telling them to 'just grow taller.' It's not empowering them to navigate the feelings, it's making them wrong for feeling that way, which reinforces a negative cycle and can actually lead to depression."
"Depression" is just a word used to describe someone who is lazy.
Along the same lines, many people think "depression" is just a fancy way to describe someone who is lazy. Instead of believing that this person is really struggling, Taylor-Klaus says many people downplay how much depression can be out of a person's control.
"This disregards the intense effort it may take just to get up or out of bed each day," she says. "Depression is unbelievably exhausting, and it is chemical. To be told that it's not real removes any inclination someone might have to put in the effort to stand up to it, to push past the pain, or even to seek the things that could help them change the chemical situation like exercise or human connection."
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the same as having attention to detail.
Many people think their finer attention to detail is the same as the experience of someone diagnosed with OCD. Connecticut-based psychiatrist Mark D. Rego, MD, says this downplays the impairing nature that people struggling with the disorder actually face.
"OCD is a debilitating disorder in which one is compelled by unwelcome urges and thoughts to wash, check, or do other rituals," he says. "Detail and being in control of something is not OCD. Unfortunately we use the same word, 'obsessive,' to label the personality style, which this may describe."
Self-care can solve all of your problems.
Self-care is important and necessary for so many people. However, it is not a solution to resolve all of your problems, especially if you're facing real mental health issues. Pre-licensed mental health counselor Maria Reyes, MS, owner of Resilient Mind Works, says that many people use face masks and bubble baths as a way to "run away" from their issues. However, she explains that people must first understand why they are "getting triggered, stressed out, or reacting" the way they are, so they can seek help for those issues. Self-care is only a temporary Band-Aid if there are deeper issues at play.
Talking to a therapist is the same as getting advice from your friends.
Your friends may be great people to turn to during hard times. But no, your friend's advice isn't the same as seeking out a therapist, Reyes says. In fact, many therapists don't actually offer "advice," per se. Instead, they "hold space, listen, empathize, educate, and ask questions" that will help you dig deeper to the root of your issues. According to Reyes, "therapists are equipped with the right questions" to help you find the answers you need within yourself.
If your life is objectively good, you have no reason not to be happy.
Just because your life is seemingly going well from an outside perspective doesn't mean you can't struggle with mental illness—yet so many people think that a good life means you're always "happy," according to certified mental health counsultant Claire Barber, founder of Treeological.
"Yes, indeed, we should each strive to be happy with what we have, and when we have a lot of good things in our life we might have more reasons to smile. But sometimes there is a chemical imbalance in our brains that simply won't let us feel stable, no matter how well things are going," Barber says. "Not realizing this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame as even just functioning and being in a good mood can feel like an intense struggle. You might be frustrated at yourself for being ungrateful. If you experience these symptoms, know that there might be more going on than meets the eye and that you might need to make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist to talk about your concerns."
Your life is over if you're diagnosed with a serious mental illness.
Many people see a serious mental illness diagnosis as life-destroying. Clinician Lauren Cook, MMFT, founder of The Sunny Girl, says that lots of people think being diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder means they can no longer "finish school, hold a job, or be in a happy relationship." However, she says that with appropriate help and treatment, many of these same people go on to "lead incredibly happy and successful lives."
Counseling costs too much money.
There are a lot of treatment options out there that are expensive, says Cook. However, not every treatment option is expensive, and the idea that there aren't options other than expensive treatment is harmful for those who want to seek help but think they can't afford it.
"There are definitely lower cost options that are available to you," she says. "If you're not sure where to start, I recommend calling your nearby university or community college for a list of referrals for low-fee options. They are required to provide you with resources so don't hesitate to reach out."
People with mental illness are inherently violent.
The stigma around mental illness has caused many to believe that people with mental illness are inherently more violent than people without, according to Patricia Celan, MD, a psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.
"This stigmatizing belief often leads mentally ill people to be socially isolated because other people are afraid of potential danger," she says. "Unfortunately, social ostracization can worsen mental illness, while a supportive community can improve the outcomes for people struggling with a psychiatric condition. This myth is particularly unfair because people with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be vulnerable and be victims of violence rather than perpetrate violence."
Depressed people look a certain way.
When picturing someone with depression, it's common to assume they are unkempt, dressed poorly, and just "sad looking." This myth is often perpetuated by depressed characters in television, who appear this way for dramatic effect.
"If we have not struggled with mental health issues or are not very close to someone who has, [TV shows] may be our only reference," says Amanda Webster, a certified mind body wellness practitioner who has been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. "It is dangerous because it ignores the fact that people with mental health conditions have learned to hide their pain and might not outwardly show it in a standard way. I had full makeup on and had just gone to a concert hours before I nearly took my life."
If you seek out therapy, then you must have a mental illness.
Many people believe that therapy is only for those who have a mental illness, says Jennifer Convissor, LCSW, a psychotherapist with Livework Solutions. However, many people who turn to therapy are simply looking for "emotional wellness."
"Therapy does not have to be about something that is wrong," she says. "Introspection is the most important gift we can give ourselves. For example, when feelings take center stage—when fear or sadness get in the way of doing what we need to do or being who we want to be—we are in a state of imbalance. A therapist can serve as an emotional coach or a translator between the heart and mind. The therapeutic relationship allows one to safely process these feelings."
You can't have both anxiety and depression.
Many people assume that if you're telling stories of struggling with both anxiety and depression, you're just exaggerating for the sake of attention. However, Rego says anxiety and depression actually go hand-in-hand more often than you might realize.
Anxiety "is a common presenting symptom of depression," he says. "Depression always entails a negative shift in mood, but that shift could be sadness, irritability, or apathy. New onset, severe anxiety is almost always depression, unless some very difficult life circumstance has taken place. Some women's depression has very prominent anxiety."
Depression is just a phase.
Many people who face serious bouts of depression are misled by the common notion that it will come and go, like a "phase they will move past," says Jamie Bacharach, health coach and licensed medical acupuncturist with Acupuncture Jerusalem.
"This is a coping mechanism born of fear, one that people adopt because they are afraid to accept the depression that they're suffering through," she says. "Feelings of depression should never be dismissed or taken lightly—refusing to confront your depression as soon as you feel it will only make things worse and delay you getting the help you need."
Mental illness isn't that common.
The notion that mental illness isn't actually all that common is a huge myth perpetuated in part because people want to believe that "it won't affect people like them," says Molly Carmel, LSCW, founder of The Beacon Program. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that's not the case. According to their statistics, more than 50 percent of people in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life.
Loving someone enough can fix their mental health issues.
As much as many people wish (and believe) they can love someone enough to fix all their problems, they can't. Behavior change specialist Lynell Ross, founder of Zivadream, says this kind of thinking can do damage to the person trying to help and to the person struggling.
"Without education and support, we will not know how to handle these relationships and often make them worse, hurting ourselves and others in the process," she says. "Difficult situations such as these require professional help for a loved one dealing with a person with mental health or addiction issues, so they can learn how to take care of themselves. It is common for the loved one to become physically ill or develop anxiety themselves if they don't get help and learn more about ways to deal with the situation."
Talking about suicide can cause someone to attempt it.
Many people worry that openly talking about suicide can actually cause someone to attempt it, says licensed professional counselor Ajita M. Robinson, executive director of Friends in Transition Counseling Services. However, Robinson says there is no evidence to suggest this. Instead, data supports asking someone about possible suicidal tendencies, as this will increase the "likelihood that a person will disclose and seek support." After all, most people who are considering suicide want help but are unprepared to seek it out.
People shouldn't talk openly about mental health at all.
There are a lot of places where mental health is still seen as something embarrassing that should be "kept hidden," says Jay Shifman, an addiction and mental health speaker.
"For example, a recent study found that [many] HR professionals weren't comfortable dealing with an employee with a substance use disorder and by extension, the question of whether or not you fire someone for struggling with addiction was a real topic of conversation," he says. "You would never consider firing someone who had cancer. But that sort of approach means it's safer for people with a substance use disorder to simply not talk about it. Hence, the stigma."
Taking medication means you will have to always take it.
Robinson says that medication isn't a life-long sentence for everyone. Just because you start a prescription treatment for depression or anxiety doesn't mean you will have to take it for the rest of you life.
"Many people could benefit from medication management while engaging in therapy," she says. "Many people can develop coping skills that can be utilized to better identify and manage the things that trigger feelings of anxiety and depression, and are able to eventually reduce—and even eliminate—the utilization of medication management."