Mental health describes our personal wellness as it relates to our ability to lead happy, healthy, and successful lives. It is just one facet of who we are as people, our quality of life, and how we perceive and connect to the world around us. Everyone has mental health, and what that looks like can change over time, depending on our phase of life, circumstances, and personal perspectives. Most can relate, at some point in time, to common symptoms of anxiety and stress, being overwhelmed, depressed, or feeling lost. Hopefully, we are able to identify that in small, manageable, and temporary situations, these are very normal reactions to what it is to be human.
It is important to recognize difference between one’s mental health and what could be a mental illness, or a mental health condition. Conditions are defined by negatively affecting one or more aspects of their daily lives and ability to function over a marked period of time. Sometimes it can prevent someone from getting through the day. Mental health conditions can worsen a person’s ability to attend school or work, maintain healthy relationships, and remain in safe and permanent housing.
Poor or improper depictions of mental health and substance use in popular media and society can negatively affect the day-to-day lives of people living with these challenges. Some common misconceptions of those with mental health and substance use disorders are they are dangerous, inconsistent, out of control, and lazy. These stereotypes hurt those who are living with diagnosable conditions and can be disheartening to work against.
Examples of common misconceptions as heard by Richard Hall clients who live with a mental health and/or substance use:
- Someone who takes medication has “given up” or should have been able to “tough it out.”
Many mental illnesses are caused by imbalances in brain chemistry. For many, this means that medication is necessary for their recovery.
- You don’t need to get help if you just pray/exercise/change your diet.
These can all be helpful coping skills, but only a mental health professional can determine what level of care is needed.
- Using alcohol or drugs is a choice, and so is relapsing.
We know that substance use is a disease that many are genetically predisposed to, and that self-medicating is a coping mechanism to trauma.
- Mental illness is the result of sin, the devil, or possession.
Those who live in religious communities are often afraid to seek help because they’ve internalized views like this.
- “I was depressed, but then I did this simple thing and I got better!”
Despite having the same name, feeling depressed and having clinical depression are very separate things. Many people who don’t understand the difference believe clinical depression to be a simple thing to “cure.”
- Schizophrenia is when you have multiple personalities.
Because many people lack education on mental illness, it’s common for them to misunderstand or confuse many different diagnoses.