May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a month to provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness. Part of advocating for mental health is fighting the stigmas and debunking myths that surround mental health. To do this we have to first understand what mental health is.
Everyone has mental health. It is the combination of our social, emotional and psychological wellbeing. These are driven by our biological make up (biotempermant and brain chemistry), our life experiences (environmental influencers, abuse, trauma) and family history. Our mental health contributes to how we think, our emotional experiences, how our body physiologically responds to stress and how we behave. This all impacts how we function in day to day life, our overall mindset, how we interact with others and how we make choices.
Common myths surrounding mental health:
1. MYTH: Mental Health Problems Aren’t Very Common
FACT: Approximately 1 in 5 people are impacted by mental health issues. According to the CDC, suicide rates increased 33% between 1999 and 2019. In 2019 there were 47, 500 deaths by suicide in the US. That is 1 death every 11 minutes. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, double the number of annual homicides. The number of people who contemplate suicide or have attempted suicide without completion is significantly higher.
2. MYTH: Children Don’t Experience Mental Health Problems
FACT: Half of all mental health disorders can present signs and symptoms before a child turns 14 and three quarters of symptoms begin by the age of 24. Biological, social and psychological factors can impact this and contribute to the development of deficits in a child’s mental health. Prevention is possible with early intervention.
3. MYTH: People with Mental Health Problems Can Snap Out of It If They Try Hard Enough
FACT: Laziness and weakness are not contributing factors to mental health problems. Genes, brain chemistry, witness to or personally experiencing abuse/trauma, childhood neglect/abuse, impacts from medical conditions, and many other internal and external experiences contribute to mental health problems.
Many myths and stigmas still surround mental health and mental health treatment. We don’t hesitate to go to a medical professional for a broken bone or strep throat. And yet, many suffering from mental health challenges hesitate in seeking out professionals for treatment. By expanding our understanding of mental health we can inspire individuals to seek additional education and prompt others to help debunk stigmas and stereotypes. Mental Illness is not something a person simply “gets over” without treatment, be it therapy, medication management or a combination of the two. Some might require shorter term interventions and others may require significant, long-term support. This May, consider how you can support and encourage the normalization of seeking professional consultation and treatment. We all have mental health, and together we can reframe the way mental health is perceived.