7 Mental Health Myths That Affect All of Us

Mental illness is more common than most people realize. Over the past few years, the knowledge of these illnesses has increased thanks to the tireless efforts of organizations like NAMI and individuals who are passionate advocates. But there are still a lot of myths about mental health that people are buying into. Let’s tackle a few of the most common.

1. Depressed people are often sad.

While sadness can accompany depression, that is a hugely oversimplistic view of what depression is. Depression can look like loneliness, lack of appetite, increased appetite, sleeping all the time, tearfulness, and more. Many people with depression are also high functioning, and can easily go through their day-to-day life looking and seeming “normal” to everyone around them. Just because someone isn’t sad doesn't mean they don't suffer from depression.

2. It’s okay to take psychiatric medication for some time, but you should try to get off of it eventually.

NOPE. It is never okay to tell someone with a mental illness that you think they shouldn’t take their medication. DO NOT DO THIS. For some of us, our medication is the difference between living our best life and suicidal thoughts. Are you going to tell a diabetic person to get off their insulin?

3. Anxiety. That’s like hyperventilating and worrying all the time, right?

Not necessarily. Anxiety is a tricky monster. It can manifest in allll kinds of ways. The ones that seem the most common to me, though, are irritability, short temper, excessive worry, obsessive thoughts, insomnia, and other sleep disturbances. As with depression, people with high functioning anxiety are really good at faking it and appearing okay externally while their anxiety eats them up inside.

4. “Being OCD” means you like things clean.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not just being a “neat freak.” People suffering from this illness feel they must complete their compulsions—which can be anything from washing their hands to turning the doorknob seven times—or something bad will happen to them/the people they care about. So stop saying how “OCD” your friend is when they just like to stay organized.

5. ADHD/ADD is made up.

Nope. Scientists have done scans of the brains of people with ADHD. Their brains are very different from a neurotypical brain. There’s plenty of science to back this up.

6. ADHD affects mostly boys.

A HUGE number of girls and women are now receiving ADHD diagnoses. This myth has been so pervasive for so long that it has made it hard for girls to get this diagnosis. And that’s still a problem. ADHD does tend to manifest differently for girls and boys, but it absolutely affects girls too.

7. People with mental illnesses need to exercise/meditate/drink water/pray/be positive more, and they’d be better.

While most of these things may be good ideas, none of them are a magical cure for mental illness. Most of us suffering from mental illnesses have tried all of these things anyway. I could be the most athletic, hydrated, enlightened, spiritual, positive person on the planet, but I would still have depression.

These are just a few of the myths that contribute to the shame and stigma surrounding mental illness. Together we can tear down the walls of ignorance and create an understanding, empathetic society people with mental illnesses feel loved and supported instead of shamed and judged. Be the change!