The Misconceptions of Mental Health

There are a lot of crazy misconceptions about depression. About anxiety. About chemical dependency. About bipolar disorder. About mental health in general. People think these conditions are choices, that could be fixed if that person just did…..whatever great idea they come up with at the moment. No, it’s not something that can typically be “behaviored” into oblivion.

How did these misconceptions come about? Here are my thoughts. There is a huge misunderstanding about mental health issues. Often people get the idea that people have these conditions because they are weak or lacking in some major way. We think they just need to snap out of it. It’s something they can control. That’s why people don’t talk about it openly. It’s a taboo that families have hidden and felt shame about for generations.

I started to type “we don’t typically assign blame for other illnesses, do we?” Then I answered my own question and realized that often people do. When someone is sick there are certain types of people who look at their lifestyle and look to assign assign blame. Did they smoke? Did they eat fried foods or too much sugar? Did they wear their sunscreen? Were they promiscuous? Did they drink? Were they working too much? Yep….people assign blame. It’s fruitless….and often their “diagnosis” is wrong. I have a huge heart for making sure that people understand the risk factors for different sicknesses and diseases and what to expect when they get treatment. That’s why everyone usually knows when I get my colonoscopy. I believe we have to de-mystify things. We need to make healthcare normal and less scary and something we can talk about. We need to quit feeling embarrassed about our bodies and talk about changes in them with doctors and other trusted people. Not doing so is killing people.

Our behaviors usually impact our overall health, but all bodies are not the same and don’t react the same to outer or inner stimuli. One size ones not fit all. The human body is a miraculous and curious thing.

Mental health conditions bring out a whole slew of armchair psychologists. If we agree the body is both miraculous and curious, I believe our brains are even more of a mystery. I like using the terms “brain chemistry” when talking about mental health conditions. I understand things a bit better if I remember with mental heath issues the brain chemistry is out of balance. Sometimes this is inherited. Sometimes not. Outside factors can exacerbate it, but they don’t typically cause it.

You take a condition like alcoholism. I don’t have a propensity for it. I can’t remember my first drink, but it was truly uneventful. Almost a disappointment. I didn’t feel any different after drinking it. I did not get a buzz. I was as boring before as I was afterward. For a long time I wondered if people were faking their tipsiness after a drink or two. It didn’t happen to me.

I find the stories of my friends’ first drinks to be fascinating. Many are such a contrast to my own. Their first drink was like a whole new world opening up. They felt more relaxed, more confident, more able to engage in conversation….life was just better. Sometimes I did wish it would effect me that way. But then someone would trip over my feet as they were running to find somewhere to vomit, and yeah…it had little appeal.

The stories I’ve heard (and witnessed) from friends who are recovering alcoholics are even more interesting. In many cases, from that first glass, alcohol was their new best friend. It took them to nirvana. From the first drop. The things it did to their life seemed really, really good….they felt they became a better version of themselves. Life was easier to cope with. Until it wasn’t. Until alcohol controlled them instead of them controlling the alcohol. They realized it really did make them a new person….but one they didn’t like. One that was needy. One who got inappropriately angry or emotional or said things they didn’t necessarily mean (or mean to say out loud.) They began to need a drink to get through almost anything. Simple life stuff. Good times and bad times and times they were simply bored. Their body cried out for this substance even when they knew it made their life less.

Alcoholism is an easy illness to illustrate. But how about crippling anxiety? How about when your brain tells you everything in the world is scary and you need to stay home and protect yourself? It’s easy to say “You just need to conquer this. You’re making it worse than it is.” Which may be true, but you don’t live in their brain. You can’t understand the paralyzing terror.

And depression. That fog of sad that permeates your whole body for no visible reason. How many times do people who suffer from this disease think the whole world is simply getting in their face and singing the Bobby McFerrin tune “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? Once again…. these people who aren’t struggling with depression don’t experience the incredible sadness in their brain…so they have no idea of the inner battle the person is fighting. The weight they feel bearing down on their soul. They don’t feel the same as someone whose brain is in balance.

And bipolar disorder? It’s become a condition people assign to anyone whose behavior they don’t understand and it has become almost a joke. It’s not a joke to those who suffer through the intense roller coaster. They have to be ever vigilant to keep it from spinning their life out of control.

A few things I’ve observed about mental health conditions/chemical imbalances in the brain.

* They throw you off course. It can be impossible to maintain mental equilibrium.

* They lie to you. Oh, how they lie to you. They convince you that you’re inadequate.

* Not only do they lie to you, but they force you to lie to others. Even those you love. Especially those you love.

* They make you want to hide who you really are. Nobody talks about this stuff….it’s a secret.

* They isolate you. They keep you away from people and make you paranoid about their intentions towards you.

* When they don’t isolate you, they draw you towards people with the same problems, who want to drag you further down, or they drag you to those who enable you and keep you from both accepting the condition and getting help.

* They convince you that you don’t need help – that you can handle it on your own.

There are people I love with mental health and chemical dependency conditions. Some recognize it, treat it, and stay on a regime that allows them to control it. Others acknowledge it, but have a difficult time doing the things that they need to do to control it. Or they’re disinterested, no matter the symptoms and how they glaringly impact their life. They may acknowledge it’s an issue, but for some reason don’t care about doing what it takes to remain at equilibrium. And then there are those who are in denial. They won’t seek treatment, because they think nothing is wrong with them. Or they think they can handle it on their own. Or they don’t want anyone to know. Or they don’t know where to go for help. Or they think acknowledging it means they are weak. Or they think it is something of which they need to be ashamed. Or they are simply tired of talking about it and taking the medication that the doctor said they need.

Mental health conditions do not typically occur because people aren’t loved enough. They don’t typically occur because someone is weak. They don’t typically occur because someone was not taught how to behave. They don’t typically occur because someone is being dramatic.

Remember that these conditions are diseases. Sicknesses. The root of them is biological. As a heart patient needs to have a lifestyle that supports good heart health, so a mental health patient needs a lifestyle that supports good mental health.

The good news is that as with other diseases, good strides are being made. There are new drug therapies and treatments that help. We now understand more about how things like stress exacerbate the problem and how even something like diet and exercise can make a difference. It often requires tackling the disease on multiple levels. There are dedicated professionals out there that can help people get on a good path. And people are more often speaking out about these conditions unashamed….which will mean more help is on the way.

Those in the lives of people suffering mental health conditions are often not prepared to deal with it. Sometimes love comes off as nagging….and sometimes it really is. Often we run the gamut of enabling, trying “tough love”, or just being too tired and frustrated to deal with it anymore. It’s hard to know the right thing to do for each person. We run out of ideas and feel helpless.

As for the person who is suffering the issue, often they can’t grab on to the love. Sometimes that unbalanced brain chemistry has their equilibrium at a point that I can only describe as severe brain pain. They don’t see the world quite as it is. They don’t see much of anything because they are feeling the pain so intensely there is no room to feel or think about anything else.

Let’s get rid of stigmas and greatly increase the treatment options available to people. Let’s all learn more about mental health conditions and band together to help those who are sick. Let’s support the families and friend in our communities. Let’s help our schools as they attempt to tackle these issues on top of all of the other issues they have to deal with. Let’s be open about the issues and let’s be open about our stories. While you may feel that everyone around you notices the turmoil you are in, often they don’t. You have to tell them. Keep talking until you feel someone understands what you’re going through. Let people surround you and help.

It’s Suicide Prevention Months. Often people who kill themselves do so as a result of a mental health issue. We can’t turn our backs any longer. We need these people stable and functioning in our world.

For those of you who have contemplated suicide, there is help. Learn those things that help keep your illness at bay. Please reach out and we will help you find them. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day (1-800-273-8255), if you are not comfortable talking to those around you. Our world would not be the same without you. As someone who has loved people who have ended their lives, I know how the loss of those lives throws the world out of balance. Help us keep our equilibrium. It’s not you….the disease is lying to you. Stay.

Note – My niece has started a team for our local Out of the Darkness walk, in memory of my great nephew Kaelan, who we lost in 2016 at age 17. If you’d like to help sponsor our team, you can use this link. https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donordrive.participant&participantID=2153675

And as a reminder, I am not a mental health professional and these are simply my thoughts today. The opinions of others may not agree, based on their personal knowledge and experience.

19 Comments

  1. Great post! As someone who has suffered from PTSD (my job) I applaud people like you that shed light on the subject. Some of us have witnessed atrocities that most people never see in real life. Thanks to articles like this, a dialogue has been opened and mainstream society is slowly ‘catching the ball’ on what mental health issues really are. Thank you for writing this.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Obviously I should not carry an unlocked phone and walk. 😂 I’d like to say this never happens, but almost all of my family and friends have gotten gibberish messages. It’s a gift. Or more evidence that Siri hates me.

        Like

  2. Thanks for this heartfelt and empathetic essay, Kim. I completely agree with you on every issue, except one. Misbehaving brain chemistry can be the cause of emotional, mood or behavioural problems — about as often as loose steering linkages in a car can result in the car veering all over the road. Problems with the nut behind the wheel are more likely a cause.
    The causation of any human issue is complex: the multidimensional interaction of many factors, some genetic, some environmental.
    Research shows a strong relationship between childhood trauma and adult mental health problems. And if you take the child’s point of view, events that don’t seem traumatic from the outside can be traumatising, and lead to decades of suffering. I summarise the research, and give several examples (including myself) in “From Depression to Contentment.” http://bobswriting.com/psych/depression.html
    Have a good life,
    Bob

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Condolences about your nephew

    I too lost my cousin to the Dragon 5 yrs ago he was only 23

    The hardest thing was not being able to be there and he hid it so well

    Liam was taken by his torment of agony too soon but never forgotten

    I ve said it before and will again “That many see a smile as sedimentary of expression to joy but RAW Truth is…. its masquerading the real torment hidden beneath ” E.O.S

    I can relate more ways than one how relentless the raging wrath of Constant Roller Coaster Affect can be.

    Very insightful thank you Kim

    Slainte

    Alex

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish my great nephew had gotten help from those who could actually help him instead of trying to do it all on his own.

      From where I stand in life, I know time changes many things, but getting help from really good mental health professionals can help. I believe many people try one that’s wrong for them and decide they’re all the same. They’re not. It’s a process to find the one that “gets” you and can go on the journey to healing with you.

      I will always hate that my great nephew never got that chance. He had an appointment set up to see someone that next week. Would it have been someone who could help? We’ll never know. But I do know that those of us who loved him would have never given up trying. Instead we miss him, and miss getting to see what he could have been. He was such an amazing kid.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Amen to that

        But crude reality is that many think that pharmaceuticals are the answer to all problems and just isn’t fundamentally sound.

        In many cases they can create adverse affect because depending on the Condition. And in cases like mine have zero affect in methodology of treatment.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s why you have to find the right therapist. Unfortunately there aren’t enough of them and many aren’t that great. But some really do get it and in my opinion are wonders. So many people try to self-medicate to deal with it. Not the way to do it for sure, but then again drifting around with an untreated issue you do what you can to get by.
        I admittedly deal with much in my life by writing. It helps me see where there are errors and where my thinking is off. My goal is to be happy and worthwhile and at peace, with a few adventures thrown in. I find I achieve that most of the time. But I have never had the degree of trauma you and many others have had.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Absolutely I admire your conviction Kim

        I have been seeing someone but due the Chinese Wuhan Virus it’s been here or there and for the state of my condition 20 mins does absolutely fuck all.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s