From the Expert: Its OK To Talk About Mental Health

13 Aug 2020

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You’ll never hear anyone say, “it’s just a phase” if you tell them you’re suffering from a headache or some physical illness. Instead, they’ll empathise, ask you if you need any help and be nicer to you. But as soon as somebody admits to suffering from a mental illness, many people look at them in a way as if they’ve spoken something forbidden. 

Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with mental illness that has made it a taboo to talk about it openly.  Be it the highly educated subset or the less-literate part of the society, these stigmas view psychopathological symptoms as threatening and uncomfortable. Such attitudes towards people with psychological conditions foster discrimination and such discrimination can be seen everywhere, including schools, corporate sectors, healthcare, housing, etc.

Thanks to the ill-informed movies, the godmen and their cults, rumors and an inherent notion, we associate mental illness to ‘madness’ and ‘craziness’; and to all the misconceptions that give birth to rumors that further strengthen the stigmas. Here I tell you more about these myths that surround mental health and how to deal with it.

Myths That Contribute To Mental Health Stigma

Myths, assumptions, lack of information, and misconceptions are the biggest contributors to the stigmas. 

Everyone who goes for therapy must be on medication: Sure there are people who go for therapy and use medication, but not everybody. The number of people who need medication is quite low. Only those with specific mental health concerns are prescribed medicine after a thorough evaluation by a professional.

I am mad if I go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist: This should be a no-brainer – if you’re aware of your condition, if you’re speaking with someone and if you’re taking medication to ensure good mental health, you are sensible! It means you are able to understand yourself better and know what your body and mind need, to be a functional member of society. 

All criminals are mentally ill, and by extension, all mentally ill people are criminals: Trust me, it isn’t how the brain works. There’s a massive difference between having a sick mentality and struggling with a mental illness. Plus, there are varying degrees of mental illnesses that differ in types, intensity and external reactions.

It’s a phase or it’s done for attention: This one is a bit tricky, while there are individuals that may use this as an excuse to gain sympathy or attention, most people suffering from these diseases are different. Offering professional support to someone can really go a long way. Additionally, just like any physical illness isn’t a phase, mental illness is also due to a specific reason and not just a mood.

People with mental illness can’t work or function normally: With the right guidance, family care and support, people with a mental illness can function to their optimal strength.

Mental health issues are permanent: Most people think this way, hence keep a distance after learning about a person’s mental health issues. However, this is not true. With therapy, medication and even lifestyle changes, these issues can be reversed or managed.

Wrong upbringing or bad family relationships cause mental health issues: This may be partially true that childhood trauma or abuse can affect mental health. However, it is not the only reason. There are multiple reasons from genetics to financial history and even a physical ailment.

Fighting Stigma Associated With Mental Health

Know that you are not your illness: It is important to understand that you are more than what your illness makes of you. It does not define who you are or limit your capabilities. Therefore, the next time somebody asks you about your mental illness, use terms like “I have” rather than “I am”, the same way a person would say “I have a sprained ankle” and not “I am a sprained ankle”.

Don’t take things personally: The stigma exists because most people do not have enough knowledge about mental illnesses. It is your condition that bothers them, not you as a person. So, instead of taking things personally and worsening your condition, try and educate people around you, or just let things go. 

Spread awareness: Regardless of whether you or a loved one is suffering from a mental illness, reading and gaining information is always helpful. Talk about it, post on social media and spread awareness about these issues, to slowly and surely remove the stigma around it.

Tell your story: The more people try to hush mental illness, the more it comes off as something one should be ashamed of. Let people know your story and you may be helping other people coping with theirs. This can be overwhelming, so start with one person at a time. Slowly you’ll build up the courage to tell more and more people about it.

Speak out against stigma: Easier said than done, right? However, speaking out against stigma may help you fight against it, instill courage in other people to talk about their illness as well as educate other people about mental illnesses. 

Do not let it create self-doubt: Sometimes, we think that suffering from a certain illness is a sign of weakness and so we start doubting ourselves and our capabilities. Know that this is not true, and if you feel it is, seek counseling, educate yourself, and connect with other people suffering from the same or similar illnesses. This will help you overcome your self-doubt.

Don’t isolate yourself: It is probably the worst thing you can do to yourself. Understand that talking to a friend or family can make you feel heard. And if you let them know about your condition, they can offer you support and compassion that can help you cope with your illness better. So, don’t be afraid of reaching out to a loved one. 

Remember you are not alone in fighting the stigma or the disease, seek help in family, friends or a professional.

Authored by Priyanka Varma

Priyanka Varma is a Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor & Psychotherapist. Founder of The Thought Co. an organisation that works towards mental health awareness for all, she has successfully run MHAW (Mental Health Awareness Weekend) and is actively involved in Caregiver Support for Individuals with Dementia. She is also a consultant at Global Hospitals and Holy Family Hospital.

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