You see a man wearing a leg cast who needs crutches to walk, and you rush to hold open the office door or compassionately assist, if you can.
As a society, we respond with compassion. Here’s another example: Your aging relative has a heart condition, and your extended family seems willing to accommodate her with healthier meal plans, scheduling doctor visits and other demanding caregiving duties.
When you find out someone has a mental illness, however, do you feel the same empathy or do you respond with fear? Are you available to help with caregiving and other family duties? Like everyone who suffers from a debilitating and life-altering disease, people who suffer from mental illness need our help, too.
Today’s advances in the treatment for mental illness, which include medications and various forms of psychotherapy, offer new life options for people in poor mental health.
Let’s dispel four of the most common stigmatizing myths to encourage more understanding, grace and benevolence toward those who have mental illness.
Mental Health Myth #1
Once you have depression or bipolar disorder, you will never achieve your full life potential.
Fact: Some of the most successful people in the world have had clinical, debilitating depression and/or bipolar disorder, including Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Beethoven and Oprah Winfrey. A diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder does not mean your life has to be put on hold. With proper treatment and monitoring, most people with depression or bipolar disorder will have the ability to thrive and flourish.
Caregiver Tip: The most important thing for friends and family members is to be patient and supportive while your loved one is on the road to recovery. Avoid sounding overly critical, hostile or even emotionally over-involved. Avoid attributing all behavior you find irritating or unwelcomed to the mental illness, and take care not to patronize the individual after a diagnosis is made. Depression and bipolar disorder can be controlled.
Mental Health Myth #2
A mental breakdown or nervous breakdown always leads to violent, aggressive behavior.
Fact: The terms “mental breakdown” or “nervous breakdown” have been taken out of context by mainstream society. What people deem a “nervous breakdown” is often nothing more than a severe stress-induced anxiety episode or a brief loss of touch with reality in a previously functional person. This acute bout may cause temporary impairment but rarely causes violent behavior. In mild cases the person is overstressed and needs a few days to recover.
Caregiver Tip: In the world, violence is a possibility whether a person has a mental illness or not. Often, those who suffer from mental illness are more dangerous to themselves than to others. In more complex cases involving psychosis, or a break with reality, a patient might need to be treated on an inpatient basis with antipsychotic drugs, in concert with psychotherapy.
Mental Health Myth #3
Treatment for psychiatric illness is a cop-out for weak or vulnerable people.
Fact: No one will argue that modern society lacks an appetite for solutions that come in pill form. We find the majority of sufferers to be overachievers and highly intelligent. If you look at anxiety disorders, for example, you’ll find mostly perfectionists and extremely creative types, despite what they are dealing with. Treatment for mental illnesses is as necessary as treatment for any other medical illness, like diabetes or heart disease, and, just as in these illnesses, treatment can save lives.
Caregiver Tip: Many new mental health patients are embarrassed or feel ashamed to say they are seeing a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional, but there is nothing to feel bad about. It’s part of a caregiver’s duty to remind them of these things. Tell your loved one or friend you’re proud to help take the necessary steps for them to get better and to help improve his or her quality of life.
Mental Health Myth #4
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a new way to explain hyper behavior.
Fact: ADHD is a condition that can have a widespread impact and should not be thought simply as hyperactivity. A constellation of symptoms that begin in childhood helps health-care providers and others identify this disorder. ADHD is attributed to changes in brain chemistry and manifests with symptoms such as distractibility, lack of focus and impulsivity.
Caregiver Tip: People with this disorder should not be ostracized or blamed, and their families should recognize the signs of ADHD and seek professional assessment and input from specialists. This is especially true for children, since early behavioral therapies can help a child with ADHD excel in school and adjust in social settings.
If you suspect that someone in your life has mental health issues, it’s important to get answers and find healing. Contact a doctor or specialist as soon as possible for suggestions. Stigmatizing mental illness is not helpful to anyone. Many people have mental illness, and most can do very well with appropriate therapy.