This post has been a long time coming but I finally had to write it today after a conversation that happened on my Instagram page. More than ever there is a need for us to continue having conversations about mental health because the statements that I read today were not just unexpected it was extremely worrying. Below are five myths in regards to mental health that I’m debunking.
- Mental illness is a choice and people can snap out of it
I hear this myth mostly in regards to depression but it applies to other mental illnesses as well. A common misconception is to equate depression with sadness and rather than seeing it as a medical condition, people believe it is an emotion that can be switched on and off. At times, there’s a sense of frustration in not being able to understand someone’s mental health experience, but it’s definitely not helpful to frame a mental illness as a choice. The first problem with this is that it places sole blame on someone for something that they don’t have control over. We don’t tell someone with diabetes or cancer to just snap out of it because that’s not the reality of how they can get better. And there’s a risk of someone’s condition deteriorating if they keep hearing that they have a choice in automatically getting over an illness that requires treatment. Believe me when I say No one would choose despair and the numbness that comes with depression over being happy. A more productive conversation to have is to encourage people to get adequate treatment and seek help.
- Talking About Mental Health glamorises it and is attention seeking behaviour
This myth is becoming pervasive especially on social media because of the uptick of people sharing their experiences. Firstly, it’s important to recognise that someone sharing their mental health story requires a lot of courage. We live in a world where mental health is still largely misunderstood and quite often there’s judgement when someone shares something that displays their vulnerability. I still find that there is a lack of empathy and sensitivity in people’s discussions about mental health which is why you would see comments like ‘you’re being a cry baby’, ‘you’re glamorising mental health’ or ‘you’re seeking attention.’
There are various reasons why someone would share their mental health journey. It could be that it’s a therapeutic outlet considering that journaling is quite helpful for a lot of people, or because they hope their story helps other people. There is nothing glamourous about the reality of mental health struggles. It’s important that we meet people with empathy and love instead of judgement when they share their stories. We need to stop undermining the validity of people’s pain and experiences and this matters so much because people are dying in silence every day! We lament over people’s death when they commit suicide but somehow fail to understand that stifling conversation about mental health is detrimental.
- People with Mental illnesses should be in an asylum
“if you have a mental health illness you belong in an asylum for the safety of the general public besides your own safety.”
Statements like the ones are above are extremely ignorant. 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. You’re probably working, studying or have someone in your family with a mental illness. It’s problematic when mental health conversations are framed in extremities like in the statement above. Mental health exists on a spectrum and the severity of its impact varies. It can be debilitating to the extent that someone needs to be institutionalised or it can be a day to day manageable illness in the case of your boss who could have an anxiety disorder. From panic attacks to bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, the spectrum is quite wide which is why it’s unhelpful when the discussion around mental health is solely framed around institutionalisation. Which contributes to the stigma and shame that we attach to mental health which shouldn’t be the case.
- Mental Health is a white man’s problem
This is the most hilarious myth and I don’t even know where to start. Mental Health is not a white man’s problem. Mental Illness does not discriminate. There is a larger discussion to have about our discomfort with labels and I suppose it’s because of the associations and the imagery that’s conjured when we talk about mental health. So when people make statements such as ‘Black people don’t get depressed’ the only thing this achieves is a lack of openness. People of colour are afraid to speak openly about their mental health illness or struggles because the communities keep reinforcing this notion of abnormality to their experiences. Newsflash: Black people don’t have a magical gene in our body that makes us immune from mental illnesses.
- Mental Health is due to low Iman (Faith)
I’ve written about this extensively in a post titled Depression Myths: Discussing Weakness and Weak Iman, but there are a few things that I want to expand on. Firstly, when I see people undermine the validity of someone else’s struggle and pain I automatically remember the story of the Prophet SAW. There’s a year in the prophet’s life known as the year of sorrow where he lost his wife and his uncle thus underwent emotional distress throughout. He was the best of humanity and his sorrow extended over an entire year! Who amongst us can dare to say that the Prophet PBUH was low of faith at this point?
And I mentioned this in the previous post, we have to be more understanding of people and the different thresholds that we all have. Rather than seeking to understand people, their stories, situations and experiences, we superimpose our notions of weakness and religiosity on them. Imagine someone with postnatal depression or with a mental illness that is genetically linked being told that their illness is a result of low faith? It’s demoralising and squarely places blame on them.
Faith without work is fruitless and considering that the crux of Islam is about faith (Iman) and actions, it really does baffle me when someone speaks about their mental health illness and the only response they get is to pray, ignoring the work and the help that’s needed which often includes therapy and medication. Faith and action work hand in hand.
I just want to reaffirm to whoever is reading this that your mental health illness is not a weakness and it is definitely not a personal failure.