7 Myths About Treating Mental Illness We Need To Shut Down ASAP
Our collective understanding of mental health issues is an ever changing and evolving thing, and despite increased awareness, stigmas regarding mental health can be pretty stubborn — not to mention myths about treating mental illness, which remain as obstinate as ever. And given that up to 80 percent of us will experience some form of mental illness at some point in our lives, or friends or family will, according to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, debunking the myths surrounding treatment, and what works and doesn’t, is pretty crucial.
Basically, experiencing a mental health condition, while challenging, is really, really common, but what works in terms of management depends a lot on a person's individual makeup and needs. Treatment can be complicated, and may require multiple or combined approaches, like talk therapy combined with art therapy, or medication combined with movement therapy. But unfortunately, a lot of misconceptions about treatment exist that can impact people's relationship to their treatment — and that can have damaging effects. The last thing a person who's managing a mental health condition needs, in addition to navigating various stigmas, is to feel shamed because of something they have to do for their wellbeing. Here are seven mental health treatment myths that we need to debunk, stat.
1. If You Take Medication, You Can't Ever Get Off It
Myths and stigmas about managing mental illness via medication can be really frustrating. For many people, medication is — literally — a life saver, while for others it's ineffective, or causes difficult side effects. But one of the most damaging myths about medication is that someone who takes it won't ever be able to get off it — or that it's a bad thing to be on medication for life. "Many people worry about the stigma of having a mental health disorder as well as the fear of a 'chemical' changing or altering their brain," Patricia Allen, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and the executive director of medical services for Summit Behavioral Health, told Bustle in April 2018. "This perception often influences the individual’s willingness to take a psychotropic medication. In reality, the medication is stabilizing one’s neurotransmitters," and if someone has to take it long-term, that's OK.
2. Exercise "Cures" Depression
So here's the thing: exercise is great, and studies show that it can fight the symptoms of depression and anxiety as effectively as medication for some people, according to Harvard Health. But most people can't manage their mental illness via exercise alone. Jennifer Payne, associate professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine told Tonic that exercise can do a lot of good for people with various mental health conditions, but it's rarely a stand-alone treatment for someone with a full blown mental health disorder. Tonic notes that, according to Payne, exercise can "galvanize a depressed person [...] and can be particularly beneficial for people with anxiety because it helps regulate adrenaline levels." But Payne further emphasized that "with diagnosed conditions [exercise] should always be considered a supplement."
3. Positive Thinking Is A Cure-All For Mental Illness
Similar to exercise, optimism, positive thinking, and expressing gratitude can be super beneficial as part of an overarching treatment plan for someone dealing with depression, according to LiveScience. But positive thinking alone won't dismantle underlying and subconscious negative thought patterns, according to PsychCentral, and those struggling with depression and other related mental health conditions, like anxiety, can sometimes be left feeling more frustrated than uplifted by their efforts to maintain positive thoughts. PsychCentral notes that by questioning underlying negative thoughts, while reframing them in ways like, "I am a work in progress, and that's OK," can point us in the direction of positive growth while taking the pressure off to be perfect in our thinking patterns.
4. Depression Is Something You Can "Snap Out Of"
Depression is not a choice, and hearing "just snap out of it" can be beyond frustrating for someone struggling with depression, and mental health and mood disorders in general. According to Suicide.org, the cultural stigmas surrounding depression are so pervasive that many folks don't realize that depression is an illness that requires medical attention, and that it can be highly treatable to boot. Instead telling someone to just "snap out of" a mental health crisis, people struggling with depression need encouragement to seek help, get support, and figure out the best treatment plan for them.
5. Talk Therapy Is All The Same — And Works (Or Doesn't) For Everyone
Therapy isn't a one-size-fits-all kind of gig — it's a different experience for everyone, no matter if the basic format is similar. Also, there are different forms of talk therapy, and, like with any profession, therapists have varying degrees of aptitude — not to mention training. So that said, it's worth shopping around a bit to find the right therapist, especially if you've had a negative experience with therapy in the past. And in all fairness, talk therapy doesn't work for everyone at all times.
"The notion of whether or not something is treatable is really dependent on new discoveries and new research," Lois Choi-Kain, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Tonic in July 2017. "We used to just apply a hammer to every nail, and some wouldn't respond. Now, there are more and more treatments coming out that are more specific, that are more tailored to [each] illness. People do get better."
According to Psychology Today, some types of depression are more treatment-resistant, and sometimes therapy alone isn't sufficient for marked improvement. And if the fit with your therapist isn't right, you might not see a lot of progress, but "if you're willing to research your condition, be a good advocate for yourself, and keep trying until something works, you can feel better sooner than you expect," Psychology Today notes.
6. You Need A Specific Diagnosis To Start Treatment
You might be feeling down or anxious, and you might not have a specific mental illness diagnosis yet — but this doesn't mean you shouldn't seek help. Once you are in therapy, getting diagnosed can help point you in the right direction as for as treatment goes; but mental health diagnoses don't necessarily last forever, either. Mental health can be more fluid and dynamic than you might think. If you're struggling to function, and your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, a diagnosis is helpful in terms of steering your treatment plan. But you don't need to adhere to a specific label when it comes to your mental health.
7. Mental Illness Is Forever
As it turns out, your brain is capable of adapting to different situations, and grows and changes through your life, according to a study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry. This concept, called neuroplasticity, means that the misconception that once you're diagnosed with a mental illness, you're always stuck with a mental illness, isn't necessarily the case in all instances.
So while the concept of neuroplasticity is still a relatively new area of research, it's implications for those living with mental illness are pretty profound. And it's true that some illnesses, like psychotic disorders, are harder to treat; but still, it's important to note that symptoms can improve — sometimes dramatically — with time.
By clearing up myths and misconceptions around the treatment of mental illnesses, we can help best empower ourselves and others to seek treatment, and get help and support. Mental illness may be something you manage over your lifetime, or it may be something you eventually move on from. Either way, support, treatment, and an honest assessment of which is the best way forward in terms of treatment, will give you the best shot at recovery, and the best quality of life possible.