Breaking the Stigma: 4 Outdated Myths About Mental Health It’s Time to Debunk

Oct 8, 2020

By Joe Grasso, PhD

Since the establishment of Mental Health Awareness Week in 1990, mental health awareness has come a long way. Thanks in part to millennials’ normalization of mental health disorders, seeking professional psychological support has become more accepted in the United States. Today, amidst a global pandemic, racial and political turmoil, and the impending climate crisis, it is more important than ever to destigmatize mental health care and make support readily available. But what does stigma actually mean, and why is it so important to stop its lingering presence around mental health care?

What is stigma? 

Stigma around mental health refers to the shame associated with needing mental health support, and it can be deeply harmful. Given that rates of anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders are on the rise, continued stigma around psychological care encourages culture-wide unhappiness. So, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve broken down some common myths about mental health, and why they’re not true. 

Myth #1: It’s not normal to struggle.

One long-standing mental health myth is that it’s not normal to feel badly. But mental health struggles are a normal part of the human condition. Nearly 20 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from anxiety, and approximately 7 percent experience an episode of major depression–and these  statistics only apply to  diagnosable mental health conditions. There is a wide range of ways people experience mental health problems, and not all of them require a diagnosis. Part of breaking mental health-related stigma is openly discussing the fact that many people will need mental health support at some point in their lives–in fact, a survey conducted by the World Health Organization found that about 50 percent of participants would be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Additionally, according to the CDC, one in five Americans experience a mental illness in a given year, even if their symptoms are not severe.

That same process of normalization, however, also requires us to destigmatize seeking care for mental health issues. Although it’s normal to struggle, emotional suffering can be helped or improved upon. Of course, some experiences are inevitably difficult, and life is full of ups and downs. But there are ways to cope, self-soothe, and continue to practice self-care, with and without the help of a mental health professional. 

You don’t have to suffer–and if you find that your symptoms are keeping you from fulfilling your goals, functioning in daily life, or even just feeling like there’s a constant weight on your shoulders, realize that there are solutions to your issues, and that some may be found in professional mental health care. While it’s normal to struggle, that doesn’t mean having to suffer for prolonged periods of time.

Myth #2: People should be able to handle mental health issues on their own. 

If you break your leg, no one expects you to walk off the pain. Just as you’d seek care from a physician for a physical ailment, you should have the same expectation around receiving treatment for a mental health issue. You may feel like you have to deal with your mental health concerns alone, but in reality, a wealth of support, strategies, and networks  exist to equip you with the tools you need to create and maintain mental wellbeing.

Here are some signs that you might benefit from professional mental health support:

  • You’re experiencing prolonged stress, anxiety, or depression. 
  • You’re feeling persistent irritability, anger, anxiety, or sadness.
  • You’ve experienced a decline in work performance.
  • You’re withdrawing from relationships, having relationship difficulties, or experiencing family problems. 
  • You have decreased motivation and/or difficulty concentrating. 
  • Your use of substances, including alcohol, has increased.

Myth #3: Mental health treatments don’t work.

While it may seem like talking about your feelings isn’t an effective way to cope with them, several mental health treatments–including evidence-supported therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Interpersonal Therapy, and more–have undergone extensive research and proven effective in treating mental health conditions. Research has actually shown that by itself, talk therapy can be more effective than medication, and that combining both is most effective in the treatment of certain mental health issues. Lyra’s own findings in studies of over 1,200 Lyra therapy clients across the U.S. have revealed the following:

  • Most clients with depression reliably improved or recovered with the use of evidence-based therapies (EBTs).
  • Most clients with anxiety reliably improved or recovered.
  • More than half of those with depression and anxiety reliably improved or recovered.

Therapy may feel uncomfortable at first, but it can still be highly effective. The key is to make sure that you and your therapist are compatible, that your therapist practices an evidence-based therapy, and that you’re committed to participating in therapy and practicing the skills your therapist provides in your everyday life.

Myth #4: Mental health care is only for people with severe problems. 

Everyone has mental health–even if you don’t have a diagnosable mental health condition like depression or anxiety. For those who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions, there is no substitute for treatment from a licensed care provider. But if you have mental health struggles that are on the milder end of the spectrum, such as stress or relationship issues, you can still benefit from professional support. And even if therapy isn’t the right fit for you, there are many meaningful ways to bolster your mental health. These may include:

  • Mental health coaching: Working with a certified coach can help you build coping skills, set goals, and problem-solve.
  • Self-care apps: These are do-it-yourself tools for learning effective self-care strategies at your own pace. While they can’t replace treatment from a therapist or mental health coach, they’re a useful starting point for people who don’t need, aren’t interested in, or aren’t yet ready to meet with a professional for care. 
  • Maintaining good lifestyle habits: These include consistent sleep patterns, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and socializing with people you care about. 

It’s likely that we will all struggle with our mental health to some degree at various points in our lives, and we all deserve the support to overcome these challenges. Destigmatizing mental health means acknowledging that these issues are common, and that even more so, it is valid and normal to seek mental health care. While self-care is useful, we don’t always have to go it alone, and asking for help can be a powerful sign of resilience.

 

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DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Grasso, PhD is the Clinical Director of Partnerships at Lyra Health and a licensed clinical psychologist. Dr. Grasso consults with employers on mental health initiatives in the workplace and leads the development and delivery of Lyra’s educational content. He also specializes in developing, evaluating, and disseminating evidence-based behavioral health care programs.