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 needs 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, it is perceived as an emotion that can be switched on and off. At times, there can be a sense of frustration in not being able to understand someone’s mental health experience, but it is definitely not helpful to frame 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. For example, it would be weird to tell patients with a broken leg or cancer to just snap out of it because that is not how they get better. In addition, there is 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 is important to recognise that it requires a lot of courage for someone to share their mental health story. We live in a world where mental health is still largely misunderstood and quite often, sharing one’s story comes attached with judgement. I still find that there is a lack of empathy and sensitivity in people’s discussions about mental health which is why it is common to see statements such as ‘you’re being a crybaby’, ‘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 a therapeutic outlet for them or that they share their story in hope that it helps others. And it is important that we meet people with empathy and love instead of judgement when they do share their stories. This involves not undermining the validity of their pain and experiences. People are dying in silence every day, yet we lament over their death 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 is 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 as 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 is unhelpful when the discussion around mental health is solely framed around institutionalisation. This further contributes to stigma and shame.
- 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 is because of the associations and the imagery attached to 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 struggles because their communities continue to reinforce 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 is a year in the prophet’s life known as the year of sorrow where he lost his wife and his uncle and this led to extreme emotional distress. He was the best of humanity yet his sorrow extended over an entire year!
We have to be more understanding of people and the different thresholds that we all have. Rather than seeking to understand people, their stories 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 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.
To conclude, I 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.