Sunday, April 3, 2016

Challenging Misconceptions About Mental Illness


We are often presented with societal perceptions of mental illness, whether we are mentally ill or not. Everyone has an opinion and a right to it, but some of the things you commonly hear about mental illness are wildly untrue. I'm not sure where they come from, but I suspect some of these myths stem from the idea that every person with mental illness has the same life/motives and others come from people who like to malign each other using mental illnesses as a weapon. It doesn't matter. What matters is that blanket statements don't work in psychology.

Before I jump in, I'm going to say that most of the challenges I am going to present are based on my own experiences. Mind you, I have a lot more experience with mental illness than your average Joe, but I still thought it pertinent to add that little caveat.

1. It must be nice not to have to work.

Firstly, most mentally ill people are not disabled. Secondly, those who are usually have a genuine disability. Like other illnesses, mental illness has an array of severity, and people cope with it differently. For example, one person with arthritis may be able to hold a steady job with the right medication. Another person may have a debilitating case of the disease, making it impossible to work. This applies to mental illness. Moreover, some of us adapt to our conditions in a way that allows us to earn a living and technically disabled at the same time.

Let's talk a bit about people who can't work and thus have to stay home.  Yes, there are people who milk the system. Again, this is true for other illnesses too. However, those who are genuinely ill would typically trade their condition for the ability to work without question. They don't want to be sick. They want to feel well enough to function, but they can't. Would you hire someone who shook uncontrollably and threw up when every they were anxious, which is sometimes several times a day? I doubt it. This is just one of the many examples of what keeps disabled mentally ill folks from working.

2. They do it for attention.

I'm trying to keep this blog PG-13, so I won't say what I really feel about this misconception, but let's say I don't like it. Some people like attention, sure. There is no question. These people typically pursue work that allows them to get the attention they want. Some of them develop conditions that cause them to behave abnormally for attention. These are mental conditions all on their own. It is not a feature of every mental illness. In fact, a great number of people with disorders like anxiety and depression hate attention. Furthermore, I don't get much attention for being mentally ill. I would get much more doing something like taking nude selfies or singing loudly in a shopping mall. It's not the best way to go about getting attention is all I'm saying.

3. Failed suicide attempts are a cry for help.

So, I'm not going to completely challenge this one. I am going to ask question. Does it matter? If you need help so bad that you would risk your life to get it, you need help. Period. Scoffing at a suicide attempt as a cry for help is contemptible. Do you do the same thing when someone literally cries for help? "Oh, that person's just yelling fire. They can still yell, so they clearly haven't burned to death yet, so just ignore them." Sounds sh*tty, doesn't it?

On the other hand, I'm going to point out that a lot of suicide attempts don't fail because they were designed to do so. There are some very serious suicide attempts that simply don't work. Why it would matter if they were serious attempts or a person crying out for help, I don't know. The reaction, in my opinion, should be the same. Compassion is the only response that I find appropriate. Sure, it's okay to feel anger at a loved one. It's okay to feel betrayed or really any other feeling that pops up, but feelings aren't actions. Maybe it's time we act like we take suicide seriously, and not as a cry for help or . . .

4. Suicide is selfish.

No. Just no. A lot of people who commit suicide (of course, I don't know the numbers) do it with the belief that they are making the world a better place. Also, people with severe depression can live in unbearable pain. It's not like being sad at all, so it isn't fair to expect a person to be able to deal with it the way you deal with everyday sadness/grief. These are not people who are only thinking of themselves. They are thinking of what use they are or what hope they have to be a functional person in this world and are coming up with nothing. (Note: Your brain LIES. Just because you can't think of a use for you or find hope does NOT mean there isn't any. Please see the resources section and seek help if you are suicidal.)

There are many more myths to be challenged. If you can think of one you would like to share, please feel free to comment below.