State of Mind: Myths

There's a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness. Oftentimes, it can cause us to misunderstand the different illnesses and how they affect those who have them.

"These conversations we're often very afraid to have," said Rachel Zentner, a licensed professional counselor with Behavioral Health Clinic.

Much of the blame of stigma is on several myths people mistake for truth.

"The social stigma and the personal stigma, it actually just prevents us from getting well," Zenter added.

But Zenter said once we teach ourselves to see the difference between what's true and what isn't, that can open the door for those who suffer to get the help they need.

Zentner addressed the most common myths.

MYTH: Mental health conditions are uncommon

"What we know is that about one in five Americans have a diagnosable mental health condition. Unfortunately because of all the negative stigma, about two-thirds of the people don't get help for their mental health condition."

MYTH: People are faking it or doing it for attention "Interestingly, if people want attention that is an indicat

ion that there is need for a relationship, that there is a need for someone to hear them and hear what's going on for them. I can't think of a better reason for someone to come into counseling to say that, 'I need someone to hear me and to witness my struggles.'"

MYTH: People with mental health issues can 'snap out of it' if they try hard enough "When we see somebody we care about struggling, we want them to get better and fast. It's frustrating for those that are caregivers of people with mental health conditions. If it were that simple, anyone with a mental health condition would snap out of it. It's not the case."

MYTH: People with mental health conditions are violent and dangerous "We know that absolutely there are folks that struggle with mental illness in our correctional system or in the homeless population, but when we continue to perpetuate myths that people with mental illness therefore are dangerous, that's a link that doesn't exist. If one in five Americans have a diagnosable condition, that doesn't make any sense in terms of the statistics we know about people that are violent."

MYTH: Psychiatric disorders are not real medical issues "This is a mental health disease, condition. We use all these words interchangeably to express that this is not something that's just going to pass. This is not something you can figure out on your own. This is not about mental weakness. We would never sit with our girlfriend who's struggling with breast cancer and say, 'Snap out of it.' We would never say, 'How come you can't figure out how to get better?' We would also never say, 'I'm sure your parents did this to you.' These are things that don't match up, but we tend to as a culture do this to folks with mental illness."

Zenter also said not to believe that you can't help a person with mental illness. She said to remember the importance of human connection and that there's no wrong way to reach out.

"People get really hung up on, 'What am I supposed to say? What if somebody's talking about harming themselves? I'm not trained to do that.' And you're right, you're not trained to do that, but in having that conversation, you can say 'I might know somebody that does.'"

Zenter said that if you are vulnerable enough and willing, she encourages you to share your own stories. If that means telling someone about a family member who suffers and what they're doing to take care of themselves or if it's your own personal story, doing so can help someone not be ashamed and scared to open up. She said that can ripple out to eliminate the stigma once and for all.

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