From researching and writing about mental health as a journalist to talking about it with loved ones, I’ve realized how common mental illness is. But I’ve also realized how hidden these disorders can be. That is, a successful career, an active social life, motherhood, or good grades are not markers of mental illness. But even women whose lives seem put together can, of course, struggle with it. More than that, in some circles, mental health just doesn’t come up in conversation. The stigma around mental illness or the negative connotations of words like “disorder” and “illness” could be to blame. Plus, opening up about mental health can be nerve-wracking and uncomfortable, if not humbling.
4 Lies We Tell Ourselves about Mental Health
More and more people (like bloggers and celebrities) have gone public with their mental health struggles, which has, in part, brought disorders out of the shadows of stigma. Even as honest, open dialogue about psychological disorders becomes normal, however, some misconceptions remain. So, let’s shed some light on four of the lies we tell ourselves about our mental health.
Lie #1: No one understands what this is like.
When mental health concerns become a lasting source of stress and emotional distress, it’s a sign of mental illness. The term mental illness covers several classes of disorders, which are so different from one another that it’s difficult to generalize the effects of each. Not to mention, psychological disorders can be more or less severe in different people. In general, though, mental illness affects thoughts, emotions, and behavior.
In the United States, about one in five women lives with mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Some research suggests that almost all of us will, at some point, develop a mental disorder. In other words, you’re not alone. Others get it. Your circumstances are different, to be sure. But others get it.
Still, having a psychological disorder can feel isolating. A therapist or other mental health professional may be able to point you to a local support group. Online support groups are another option if you don’t have access to a support group in your area. The internet can facilitate connection and a sense of belonging between people who have the same condition. Even if you don’t join a support group, you can take comfort knowing others share similar struggles.
Lie #2: No one can help me.
Data shows that about 49% of women with mental illness are receiving help for their condition. What about the other half? Of course, not all people can access or afford treatment. In addition, the stigma of mental illness can keep people from seeking help. Others doubt that mental health professionals can help them.
First, certain mental illnesses—such as bipolar disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and schizophrenia—are chronic (persisting over a long period of time). While a cure doesn’t exist, these conditions are treatable.
Second, aside from chronic conditions, most psychological disorders are short-lived with proper treatment. (That doesn’t mean these disorders aren’t debilitating, though.) For most people, treatment includes talk therapy, medication, or both. Medication alleviates symptoms. Talk therapy teaches you to cope with what’s troubling you—and helps you better understand your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in the process.
When it comes to mental health concerns, seek help sooner than later. Your wellbeing depends on it, after all. Remember that reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Lie #3: Everyone will judge me.
Broaching the subject of mental health with a significant other, friend, relative, or spiritual director can be intimidating. Fear of judgment can keep these conversations from even happening. You may wonder whether others will think less of you, treat you like a different person, or distance themselves from you.
If anything, though, these people should respect you more for what you’re up against—and for having the courage to share it with them. What’s more, talking about mental health in trusted relationships opens the door for others to share their experiences. Who knows, before long, conversations about mental health could become your new normal.
Talking about mental health with others can feel liberating, but that doesn’t have to mean coming forward with these struggles on social media or another public platform. (Major respect for those who do, though.) While talking about mental health helps to break the stigma, these conversations do not need to happen with each of your relatives, acquaintances, etc. if that doesn’t feel right. Reserving conversations about mental health for those closest to you is a valid decision that deserves respect, too.
Lie #4: If I were holier, I wouldn’t have a mental illness.
You know Jesus offers peace, but you’re anxious. You’ve tried to rest in the Lord’s presence, but you’re restless. You’ve heard that Christians should be joyful, but you feel numb.
Before you wonder whether you’re giving enough to God—praying enough, fasting enough, and so on—remember that psychological disorders dictate thoughts and emotions. Remember, too, that faith isn’t all about feelings. So, it’s OK (and natural) to not feel what you “should” feel. The symptoms of mental illness do not point to a weak faith life or poor relationship with God. Mental illness is a matter of health, not holiness.
Likewise, don’t be discouraged if you’re praying for healing and it’s not happening. Yes, God heals according to His will, but that doesn’t mean treatment isn’t in His will. While God can use suffering for a greater good, He wants you to experience happiness and some degree of fulfillment. For that reason, it’s acceptable—and super important—to seek the care of mental health professionals. If you’re dealing with mental illness, treatment will allow you to function better and, therefore, better live out your vocation.
What lies have you believed about mental health?
Mary Claire Lagroue is a journalist who covers culture, health, food, and travel. Between the deadlines, find her buried in a book, mapping out her next weekend trip, or designing cards at Paper Garden Goods.