1. Mental health disorders are more common than you would think
We often think that mental health is something that affects others and couldn't possibly be something we or our loved ones will face one day. And while that thought sure sounds comforting, in reality, mental illness is more common than you think.
For one, the most common disorder is anxiety and panic disorder, with an estimated 18% of the population in the US alone suffering from the illness according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Of these, only 36% seek treatment, despite the fact that it's among the most treatable mental health issues.
The numbers speak for themselves. According to MentalHealth.gov, 1 in 5 American adults had a serious mental health issue at some point in their lives, and 1 in 25 live with a major mental illness (e.g. bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression). Finally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, taking twice as many lives as homicide each year.
2. It’s possible to prevent mental illness
It's certainly true that there is a genetic and hereditary component to mental health problems, but these are only one of the contributing factors that make a person susceptible to specific mental illnesses. The remaining factors affecting mental health, such as trauma, a safe and supportive environment, a healthy diet, abstinence from alcohol and recreational drugs, and an active lifestyle are all environmental, and can be as important as the hereditary predisposition.
That's why it's of key importance to raise children and adolescents in a safe and positive environment and prioritize a healthy lifestyle, especially if you know that a child is at risk of developing mental illness.
3. Weakness or strength of character has nothing to do with mental health
One common misconception about mental illness is that it stems from a lack of character and self-discipline, and if people suffering from a mental condition would try harder, they could be back to normal. This misconception stems from the belief that mental conditions originate from emotions, so, for example, a person who suffers from depression is just sad or lazy, or someone who is in mania is just hot-headed or angry.
Unfortunately, things are not so simple, as no amount of self-discipline can undo the trauma or regulate the neurochemical disturbances in a person's brain, both of which are major physical contributing factors of mental illness. For this reason alone, don't demand from a person with a mental issue or from yourself to just snap out of it, seek professional help instead.
4. It’s possible to fully recover from mental illness
Another persistent misconception about mental illness is that it's irreversible, meaning that a person suffering from mental health issues will never recover. This, too, isn't true, and many patients recover completely or get much better if they get treatment and the social support they require.
The likelihood of full recovery will depend on the type of condition, the stage of development of said condition, as well as the treatment and support the patient receives. That's why it's always good to turn to mental health professionals and seek treatment as soon as possible.
5. People suffering from mental illness can hold full-time jobs just like everyone else
Like we've mentioned previously, the number of people suffering from mental health issues is massive. In fact, nearly everyone will suffer from some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives, and as many as 1 in 10 young people have had major depression. Needless to say, most of these people have lives, families, and jobs.
Many psychiatric patients are productive and manage to hold full-time jobs without frequent absenteeism and other negative side effects of their condition, given that they manage their condition. In addition, having a steady income and maintaining social activity has been found to be highly beneficial to persons suffering from mental health issues.
6. Children, as all other ages, can and do experience mental health issues
Many mental illnesses manifest themselves in the form of early signs and symptoms during childhood or youth, and there are a few disorders, such as autism, that begin in early childhood. It has been estimated that 50% of all mental illnesses exhibit the first symptoms before the age of 14, and 75% of them begin before the age of 24.
It is unfortunate that most of these early symptoms don't get the attention they require, and it is not until the illness reaches its developed stages that the patient seeks treatment. On the bright side, the statistics of the early diagnosis are improving, and an increasing number of patients have a better prognosis and have a chance for a better life as a result.
7. Stigma is one of the biggest issues for people with mental health problems
Social acceptance is incredibly important for anyone, really, so it's not surprising that people suffering from mental health issues are often ashamed to discuss their condition with other people. Patients are afraid to be diagnosed because this may cost them their job, their family and their social circle.
But the adverse effects of stigma related to the mental health field, in general, are a lot more far-reaching, as many patients refuse or deter the necessary treatment due to the fear of being labeled 'crazy' or 'psycho', which decreases their chance of full recovery. Acceptance and understanding from the patient's social connections are key in helping their recovery and long term wellbeing, as well as preventing suicide.
8. Genetics alone cannot trigger mental illness
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of mental conditions are not genetic, all of them are acquired, though some have a stronger genetic component than others. Even autism, the first symptoms of which are often exhibited as early as 8 months, occurs as a result of both genetic predisposition and abnormalities during pregnancy and childbirth, which makes autism an inborn, but not a genetic condition.
The genetic component for other mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, etc., is even smaller than that, and as a result, these conditions are preventable, much like many acquired physical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cirrhosis or type 2 diabetes.
9. Exercise has a surprisingly beneficial effect on mental health
Many people underestimate the beneficial effect of good lifestyle changes on mental health. The reality is, however, that maintaining a physically and socially active life, having a healthy diet and even spending time in nature can help your symptoms.
For one, exercise has been found to improve the symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADHD, likely because it is known to relieve stress, boosts your mood and improves sleep. Needless to say, all of the activities and habits we mentioned are also good preventative methods.
10. There is no link between creativity and mental illness
If we were to ask you to name at least a few famous creatives suffering from mental illness, we're more than sure that you'd be able to come up with several examples off the top of your head: van Gogh, Hemingway, Sinatra, the list goes on... This prompts the question, "Is there a link between mental illness and creativity?"
Luckily, we have a ready answer, and it's a definitive 'No', and there is nearly a century's worth of scientific studies to back up this claim. People suffering from mental illness are not more creative than those who don't, and conversely, artistic minds are not more likely to suffer from a mental condition than non-creatives. Lastly, if you, as a creative, will take medications to address a mental issue, it will not directly affect your level of creativity.
11. Mental illness and intellectual disability or brain damage are not the same
This is another popular misconception, and we recognize where it comes from, as it often happens that people with brain damage or cognitive deficits have mental health issues, and it's also the case that mental illness in its advanced stages can cause brain damage.
What further complicates this question is that many brain disorders can be accompanied by psychotic episodes or mood disorders. For example, advanced Parkinson's disease often causes hallucinations, delusions and psychosis. Still, this doesn't mean that neurological and psychiatric illnesses are the same, it merely showcases that structural and functional changes in the brain influence our mental health.
12. Sleep deprivation affects mental health
We live in a society that often values productivity and hard work more than health. The truth is that by depriving yourself of sleep or sleeping too much, you can set yourself up for danger.
In fact, research from Harvard University has shown that 65–90% of adults with major depression also suffer from sleep problems. This is because REM sleep promotes learning, memory and emotional wellbeing, and the lack thereof, as the authors suggest, can worsen or even potentially trigger psychiatric illness. So, fluff up your pillows and have a good night's sleep.