With so much happening that is out of our control and so much uncertainty clouding our lives, it seems like a shared feeling has become this awful impending sense of doom. Words like depression and anxiety are becoming commonplace as people struggle to cope with loss, addiction, employment changes, and social isolation.
With so many people facing new and terrifying odds, it’s important to look at what different mental health problems really look like and how they can be dealt with. Many still deny the very existence of mental health disorders and others have a fundamental fear of them. It’s hard to know what is true and what isn’t in the midst of all the confusion. So let’s take a look at some of the common misconceptions surrounding mental health.
1. People with mental health disorders cannot be employed
The long-standing belief has been that people with mental health problems are incapable of functioning in a normal workplace and unable to hold down steady jobs. While certain severe mental health conditions can impair a person’s ability to work, this belief is by and large, untrue.
A 2014 study conducted by American scholars determined that employment becomes affected negatively as the severity of the mental illness rises. Keeping that in mind, the study also determined that nearly 55% of people with severe mental conditions maintained functional employment, as well as 60-70% of people with mild or moderate conditions. Compare that to 75% employment of people without any mental illness.
The study also found that employment rates for people with mental health disorders decreased as age increased. Though it can be difficult for a person with mental health problems to adjust to different working environments, it is by no means impossible or even uncommon.
2. Mental health problems are permanent
When people find themselves or someone close to them experiencing symptoms of and being diagnosed with a mental health disorder, their immediate assumption may be that they are being slapped with a life sentence. This is not always the case as the severity and longevity of mental illness usually differ from person to person.
Symptoms of depression, addiction, or schizophrenia can include everything from fatigue, insomnia, and mood swings to seizures, restlessness, and sensitivity to light. Some people may suffer from the symptoms during infrequent episodes. Certain forms of depression are triggered by particular events or external factors, like Seasonal Affective Disorder, which results in mood swings only during certain seasons.
For the most part, with regular treatment, people with mental illnesses can recover, with the help of medical and therapeutic treatments, and live a full and satisfying life. In some cases, recovery may mean a return to normalcy, while others see it as relief from prolonged symptoms which didn’t allow them to function happily. Depending on the disorder and its severity, the road to recovery may be long and arduous, but it is in no way a life sentence.
3. Only women are affected by eating disorders
Much like the idea that women can’t play sports, and men cannot cook, this statement is merely a stereotype, usually associated with young women from wealthy backgrounds and, of course, models and actors. While it has been largely women that suffered from eating problems, men have also been affected by anorexia and bulimia. In fact, a 2014 study showed a shift in the demographics for this type of mental health problem.
The study was conducted over a 10 year period from 1998 to 2008 and investigated the eating habits of different demographics, like age, gender, and socio-economic status. It found that there was a significant increase in behavior associated with eating disorders in men from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and people above the age of 45.
Many were found to be engaging in cycles of binge-eating, extreme purging, and heavy dieting. This behavior is often carried out in the pursuit of greater physical health at the risk of quality of life. Other research shows that men constitute 25% of all cases of binge-eating disorders, bulimia, and anorexia.
4. Mental health problems aren’t that common
It may seem like mental disorders are a rare illness that only affect a few, but the numbers are much larger than you’d expect. An estimation made by the WHO (World Health Organization) in 2001, noted that “1 in 4 people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.”
More recent studies have shown nearly 300 million people across the globe are affected by depression. A study published in September 2020 revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in people developing symptoms of depression at triple the rate before given the multitude of new triggers, from lower-income to extreme isolation.
There are a variety of other mental illnesses that affect people, like bipolar disorder which nearly 5% of adults will experience at some point in their lives, and even anxiety. 3 in every 100 American adults, that’s nearly 7 million people, suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
5. Substance abuse is caused by an inability to resist
While it does take an immense amount of willpower to avoid or recover from a substance abuse problem, like alcoholism or drug addiction, it is not the only factor that comes into play. Substance abuse disorders have been linked to environmental, genetic, and physiological factors, well beyond the reach of willpower. Alcoholism has been recognized as a disease since as early as the 1950s.
Drug-addiction has more recently joined the ranks of acknowledged mental health disorders as the role of mental illness, stress, trauma, and genetics in addiction has become more evident. A 2008 study showed that genetics influence reaction time to substances, instinctive repetitive behavior, and even an inability to feel the negative effects of drugs, all of which contribute to the development of an addiction.
In addition to the hereditary development of addictions, environmental factors like stress and trauma can also act as triggers that incite addiction. Most chemical dependency recovery programs focus on determining methods to cope with and control environmental triggers, thereby preserving willpower and enabling greater functionality.
6. Children do not have mental health conditions
We like to associate children with innocence and joy, and while that is absolutely the case, that does not preclude them from vulnerability to mental health problems. There are numerous factors that can affect the mental health of children from physical appearance and popularity among peers to grades and other academic pressures – all in addition to genetic and physiological factors.
A Canadian study conducted in 2019 surveyed the mental health status of over 10,000 kids in Ontario. This study made use of data collected from families and children and observed that nearly 1 in 5 kids between the age of 4 to 17 have or will develop a mental health problem. Signs of mental illnesses seen in adults begin to manifest themselves when the person is as young as 14 years old.
The study also determined that age, gender, and socioeconomic factors played a role in how the symptoms of various mental health problems manifested themselves. Younger boys were more hyperactive while older boys showed signs of emotional disorders. Children from low-income families living in high-poverty areas internalized symptoms more than those living in high-income areas. This further adds to the importance of understanding mental health problems and illnesses on a person-to-person basis.
7. You can die from a panic attack
Panic attacks can come in a variety of symptoms depending on severity, the most common being hyperventilation, headaches, sweating, and shaking. These symptoms do not cause death. That said, the symptoms together can be extremely damaging to the body and the mind, and should be treated promptly.
Since panic attacks have physical manifestations, they can leave lasting physical effects. They can also leave a person immobilized by fear, increasing their heart rate to extreme levels. Frequent panic attacks and chronic stress result in heart palpitations, chest pain, and numbness in the extremities. Over a period of time, this can lead to cognitive impairment, memory loss, and even heart problems.
Deep breathing exercises can be highly effective in battling panic attacks and recovering from them more quickly, reducing the impact on your body. Staying active and practicing muscle relaxation techniques can also help bring down the frequency of attacks and symptoms.
Mental health problems are more common than we realize but far less fearsome than we first thought, and most of them can be treated successfully. In the case of all mental health problems, it’s important to talk to people close to you, stay aware of recent studies on mental health, and talk to a mental health professional about symptoms you or someone close to you has been experiencing.
Exercise, diet, positive thinking, and mental exercises can go a long way in improving one’s mental health, and medicinal treatments are also available. Though they may seem daunting, mental health problems and illnesses do not have to keep you or your loved ones from living a happy and fulfilling life.