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Mental Health Myths

While society is becoming more comfortable with the topic of mental health, whether through casual conversation, memes, or gifs, there are still common myths and misconceptions circulating that can further perpetuate stigma and limit access to mental health. Today we are going to bust some of these common myths and set the record straight.

Mental Illness is rare?

False. According to the World Health Organization, “1 in 4 people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions”. This was a finding back in 2001, prior to the pandemic greatly impacting the mental health of individuals across the world. Specifically looking at depression in 2021, 3.8% of the population is affected, measuring out to an estimated 280 million people. Although mental illness may not always be talked about, due to stigma and shame associated, it is safe to say that no, mental illness is not rare.

Mental Health is a Sign of Weakness?

False. Mental illness does not mean one is weak, undetermined, lazy or ungrateful. In fact, one can be grateful for aspects of life while feeling unmotivated by their depression or stuck from their ruminating anxiety. Both can exist at the same time. Individuals who are battling through mental illness are often stronger than what they give themselves credit for as they continue to show up and navigate what may feel like, an uphill battle. Asking for help and receiving treatment, such as therapy, is a courageous step as it is difficult to sort through the events that brought you to this place to start with (ex: miscarriage, divorce, abuse, etc.). Kudos to those who are willing to challenge internal narratives, adjust habits, and redefine values as it’s not easy, but a testament to your character nonetheless. To me, continuing to show up for yourself is not a weakness.

You can snap out of it if you try hard enough

False. Many factors can contribute to mental illness, including genetics, brain chemistry, life experience, childhood upbringing/attachment, injury, losses, transitions, and unexpected life events, such as a pandemic.

These are not situations one can simply get over as there are complex emotional layers and if one could, there would be no need for therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, case managers etc. Thankfully there are these professionals who are there to assist in breaking down the barriers so that you can achieve your goals and be the best version of you.

People with mental health are violent

False. Large majority of individuals with mental illness are not violent and are actually 10x more likely to be the victim of crime than the perpetrator. Only about 3-5% of violent acts are committed by someone with a mental illness.

Mental Illness is all in your head

False. It is true that mental illness can stem from chemical imbalances in our brain or altered brain chemistry where areas of our brain are under or overperforming; however, mental illness can impact other parts of our body as well, such as our gut microbiome. In our body, there is something called a Vagus nerve that connects our brain to our gut. About 80% of the communication goes from our gut to our brain and 20% from our brain to our gut. This means when the balance of neurotransmitters in our gut is off or we have unhealthy gut microbiome, it can impact the messages sent to the brain and thus our emotional state. This is why when you are anxious you might feel butterflies in your stomach, have "panic poops", or have other medical concerns, such as IBS.

Mental health can additionally alter or be altered by our hormones, such as our thyroid or adrenal glands. Research has also shown that those with a higher ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) score are more likely to develop physical medical concerns, alongside mental health symptoms. It's basically our body's way of saying, "Hey, something is off and I need to get your attention".

The brain is an important part, but mental health impacts the whole individual. Thankfully by engaging in things like therapy, getting appropriate medical care (such as functional nutrition) and getting the recommended amount of sleep, we can start to heal the whole body together.

There is only one type of therapy?

False. There are a multitude of modalities that can be utilized, but you do want a therapist who engages in evidenced based treatment and integrates a treatment you feel comfortable with.

Here are some different types of modalities:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Dialectical Behavioral Therapy

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Cognitive Processing Therapy

Ego State Work/Structural Dissociation

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Emotionally Focused Therapy

Brain Spotting

Only people without friends need a therapist?

False. While speaking to friends can be helpful, there is a difference between a therapist integrating a structured modality and a friend offering you opinions, suggestions or feedback that worked for them. A therapist spends time getting to know your background, story, patterns, belief systems and defense mechanisms that are influencing your emotions and limiting your ability to achieve your goals. Licensed therapists can then utilize evidenced based modalities, such as the ones listed above, to help challenge internal narratives, identify alternate perspectives, and free you from emotional barriers. Not to mention this is all done in a confidential, safe environment where the focus is solely on you, which you typically don't get in every day chats with friends.

Ultimately, I would suggest having a combination of things to advance your progress, such as therapy, a strong support group you can be authentic with, and maybe books focused on topics you are addressing to help supplement the work taking place in counseling.

I hope this helps clarify information for you and normalizes both mental health and your experience. While it can be a lot to take in, you don't have to figure this sh*t out on your own. Whether it's myself or another therapist, we are here to help you transform into the person you want to be.

If you have any additional questions, feel free to email me and I would be happy to help answer them for you.

Written by: Chelsea McDonald, MA, LPC


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