The Mental Health Misconceptions That Flood Us
Richa Gupta, Contributor Teen Poet and Blogger, Founder/Editor-in-chief of Moledro Magazine
Image Credit: http://www.witsu.ie/welfare/health-a-z/mental-health/
Several years ago, I had thought that OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) was like a personality trait that made people neat, tidy, and perfectionistic. I had thought that OCD made people arrange their wardrobes in creative ways and have a predilection for blue, as opposed to black, markers. The people around me would use the term “OCD” not as a noun, but as an adjective (and a rather flattering one, at that): “I’m so OCD about the way I arrange my books on my shelf,” or “Stop rearranging the desks, how OCD are you?” Little did I know that I had given in to one of the most prevalent misconceptions in the world of mental health and illness.
Those misconceptions were shattered over a year ago, when a girl exceedingly close to me started exhibiting strong symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. And that’s when I saw this illness for what it truly was: not a quirk, not an idiosyncrasy, but a serious condition that can tear down one’s life if left ignored and untreated. I saw that girl suffer, struggle to combat inner demons and conflicts, and succeed only after numerous attempts at trying. That was the true face of OCD.
I never use mental health terminology facetiously, and never have. That said, the realization immediately made me regret the times I hadn’t stopped my peers from using the term “OCD” flippantly and unknowingly. It makes me regret the times I had given a tight smile to those comments, dismissing them the next moment and letting the misconceptions stagnate and fester in the air. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to sound patronizing or digress from the topic of our conversation. It was because I didn’t know.
But now I do. And from conducting research, reading books and elements of popular culture, and talking to different people, I’ve realized that these misconceptions cover almost the entire spectrum of mental disability. They may be glamorized, romanticized, demonized, or trivialized, among others. But one thing is certain: mental illnesses are rarely understood in their true form, thanks to the stereotypes and misconceptions that inundate them. And we may not realize it, but such fallacious beliefs can have a deep impact on those struggling with these illnesses every day (I only need to look at that young girl to know).
So let’s talk about other prevailing OCD misconceptions. As written by Beth W. Orenstein in her article in Everyday Health, OCD is not about cleanliness, or a desire to see everything immaculately organized on a tabletop. People with OCD may struggle with obsessions, compulsions, or both. As written by the National Institute of Mental Health, obsessions usually consist of anxiety-provoking thoughts and mental images, whereas compulsions are characterized by repetitive behaviors and the performance of rituals in order to curtail the anxiety. Compulsions can include repeating the same words or motions, entering and exiting a room, or repeatedly checking on doors to make sure they are locked. There are more, such as hoarding, compulsive counting, and excessive cleaning, but these are the ones that I clearly saw in that little girl with OCD. From what I’ve learnt and heard, people with OCD do not wash their hands because they like to be clean; they wash their hands in order to dispel the intrusive thoughts, emotional distress, and anxiety. They do not enjoy performing cleanliness rituals, but often feel like they are left with no choice. And not everyone with OCD washes their hands—that’s just the stereotypical image that has been embedded in society. As written by Courtney Lopresti in her article in Psychology Today, OCD is a heterogeneous disorder that manifests differently.
I’d also like to talk about a mental illness that is often glamorized or romanticized in popular culture: depression. On social media (especially Tumblr and Instagram), we find recurring images of attractive girls with melancholy expressions, listening to supposedly mournful music. The image it evokes is poetic, romantic. The word “depression” is used so loosely and airily that I doubt that anyone takes the phrase “I’m so depressed” seriously anymore. It has become so easy for people to say that they’re depressed because they had one bad day or week… to the extent that the real nature of this mental illness has been shrouded by layers of ignorance. As said by Dr. Pooky Knightsmith in Lifehack, her experiences with depression left her unable to connect with the real world, fearful of the future, detached from her emotions, and guilty when she did occasionally have a happy moment. It affected her relationships, and left her donning a “happy mask” that concealed her true emotions and struggles.
That’s distinctly different than the romanticized versions of depression that pepper social media websites. And that’s only one story among millions.
I’d like to address the misconceptions surrounding other mental illnesses, but will save that for another article. But one thing is definitely clear: these misconceptions largely arise from ignorance, and can have highly negative impacts on those who are struggling with these mental disorders. For instance, I know a girl who told me that she’s unwilling to tell people she has depression—for in the past, people have told her to “snap out of it,” or had responded with “I was really depressed a few weeks ago too, I know exactly how you feel.” And, well, OCD is an illness that is predominantly misunderstood, and whose image seemingly embodies the tiniest fraction of what it really means to have it.
It’s time that mental disorders are put on the same pedestal as physical illnesses. Why is OCD trivialized to quirks or idiosyncratic mannerisms, when cancer is universally respected for being the debilitating disease it is? Why are depression and eating disorders glamorized, while diabetes is portrayed for what it truly is? As I’ve extrapolated from my daily conversations, some people subconsciously believe that mental disorders can be effectively combatted by “thinking differently.” But it isn’t, and will never be, that straightforward. Mental illnesses are extremely real, are evidently veiled by misconceptions, and consequently carry a swathe of stigmas with them. But that doesn’t mean that these false impressions can’t be corrected. It only takes a few minutes to completely alter an ignorant person’s viewpoint on a topic of extreme significance. And so, as the young leaders of our world, we have an obligation: to make the world a more understanding and aware place for those struggling with mental illnesses, so that we can all be ushered into a world where each person gets the support and encouragement he/she deserves.
Having a diagnosis of a mood disorder is not the person. And the diagnosis is not a label to place on the person. Most people living with a mood disorder continues with their lives of work and family. In fact, many people living with depression and bipolar disorder are valuable contributors to society, in all fields of work and service.
DBSA Jackson provides a weekly support group meeting for people living with mood disorders. The group facilitators are volunteers with problems of their own. For the past 15 years, these facilitators have proven themselves to be among the "strongest people".
Depression is real. And it is treatable and manageable. At three junctures I started my life over again. When life-as-I-knew-it ended, I started life anew essentially with few resources. Each time, I found a new life filled with purpose and meaning and happiness I never considered available to me.
Negativity in all of forms robs one of the possibility for future happiness and success. We must at every turn examine our lives and remove all obstacles that read negativity. Let's keep ourselves under constant personal surveillance for negativity in all of its forms.
Life is too short!
Have you ever had periods of the blues during the winter months?
Five Ways You Can Fight SAD
November 03, 2016
When daylight saving time ends on November 6, some people will celebrate. After all, what’s better than being able to sleep in for an extra hour on Sunday? Or, being able to get your kids to bed just a little earlier since it turns dark by 5 PM now? But for others, daylight saving time marks the beginning of a long, cold couple of months made even gloomier by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that affects around five percent of the country’s total population each year. SAD can affect anyone, but those particularly at risk include younger people, and those who live farther away from the equator—because the amount of winter daylight becomes shorter the farther you are from the equator, and darkness can make SAD symptoms more severe. The exact cause of SAD is currently unknown, but some possibilities include problems in the sleep cycle, chemical changes in the brain, and factors inherited from relatives. The good news? There are ways to manage SAD. If you or someone you know deals with SAD during the winter months, read on:
Dr. Merle McCann is the service chief of the Adult Crisis Stabilization Unit at Sheppard Pratt Health System, and specializes in mood disorders. He is also a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland Hospital, School of Medicine and president-elect of the Maryland Psychiatric Society.
What do you do? The person you love is out of control and is not listening to you. You know its going to end badly for both of you. No cooperation. Only denial. Here are some practical things one can do for their loved one, and themselves.
Fast Talk: Dealing With DenialEventually, we need to face the facts about our reality and diagnoses
By Julie A. Fast
It can be upsetting, stressful, and downright incomprehensible when someone with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder denies the illness and refuses treatment. You may find yourself watching helplessly as behaviors tied to untreated bipolar lead to family distress, broken relationships, problems at school and work, money woes, and alcohol and drug abuse.
If you try to help someone in denial, you will probably be accused of interfering if you even mention the word bipolar. This is confusing because it’s very easy for you to see what’s wrong, and naturally you want to point out the problem in hopes that the person will then get help. Often, however, your attempt just makes things worse.
It hurts when a person in denial shuts you out, but it’s common.
What’s even more confusing is that you can have an honest conversation about bipolar when your loved one is stable, reviving your hopes that the person will enter or stick with treatment. Then boom! Here comes the denial again.
It may be cold comfort to learn that it is very typical behavior for people with bipolar disorder to deny they are sick and avoid treatment, even if they have been in the hospital or taken medications for the illness in the past.
It’s important to remember that people in denial are usually miserable, in a great deal of internal pain, and can’t see a way out. It’s easy to believe they really can’t see what’s going on, but unless denial is a result of a mood swing such as strong maniaor paranoia, the affected individuals usually know what is happening. They respond to your concern with aggression because they are trying to protect their decision to deny the illness.
It hurts when a person in denial shuts you out, but it’s common. The person prefers to be around others who don’t mention the illness, and will paint you as the bad guy because you are the one who is stating the truth.
There is good news, however. I’ve talked with hundreds of people who moved through denial to eventually admit that bipolar is at the root of their problems and they needed help. Over and over I’ve been told how despite their relentless inner pain and confusion, they refused help and pushed away the people who cared about them.
It’s when someone realizes that they no longer want a life controlled by bipolar disorder that they begin to listen to loving advice instead of fighting back.
Steps toward change
Find the sweet spot. Are there periods when your loved one is more open to discussion? Often people are more receptive during a mild depression. Once you see a pattern in your loved one’s moods, you’ll have a better sense of when to gently start a conversation.
Set expectations. If a loved one with bipolar is living with you, you have the right to set expectations for behaviors such as drug use, drinking, yelling, staying in bed all day, staying out all hours and, yes, refusing treatment. You are always in control of what works best for you. It’s not always about the person with the illness. It will be up to you to decide the consequences if your expectations aren’t met.
Understand the challenges. Always remember that bipolar is an illness. No one chooses to have bipolar disorder. People in denial can be very unpleasant and it’s easy to walk away from them, but don’t forget they are suffering. It’s OK to address this directly. Go ahead and say you understand that it must be hard to have someone tell you what to do. Say that you can tell the person feels misunderstood. People in denial may get angry or refuse to reply, but they have heard you. Many times, when they get better, they will tell you they heard you.
Hold on to hope. I’ve known many people who accepted treatment after years of denial, often when loved ones learn simple strategies and get them help at the right time. It isn’t easy to hang on until then. Nothing with bipolar disorder is easy! But bipolar is treatable, even for those who currently refuse to admit they are ill.
Printed as “Fast Talk: The Denial Factor”, Summer 2011
I gained a better understanding of my role and limitations by reading the follow ing article. I trust you find it beneficial also.
10 Ways to Support Someone with Bipolar
When family and friends understand how things are for those of us with bipolar, it helps move us along the road to recovery and helps us all live more harmoniously.
By Stephen Propst
For those of us who have bipolar disorder, we are kidding ourselves if we think we can go it alone. While one of the most profound determinants of making a positive recovery is having support from family and friends, supporting someone with a chronic illness is not easy. When family and friends understand how things are for those of us with bipolar, it helps move us along the road to recovery and helps us all live more harmoniously.
For those who support us, there are ways to reduce stress, improve relationships, and make for a better overall quality of life for everyone. Whether the person has been diagnosed as having bipolar and is compliant, or refuses to admit that anything is even wrong, having the right attitude and the necessary basic knowledge is key. Here are 10 points to keep in mind if you’re serious about offering support that helps, not hinders.
1. Never give up hopeLooking back, the first 10 years of my more than two decades of dealing with bipolar disorder were a seemingly insurmountable struggle, but my loved ones never gave up hope. Despite a situation that often created frustration and hopelessness, they never doubted my recovery. Today, they continue to instill that same undying confidence.
There is one piece of advice for anyone who loves someone with bipolar disorder, and it is this: keep the faith and never give up. There have been many times when there was nothing but hope, and you have living proof that it kept me going. So, let your hope for a loved one spread--it’s contagious.
2. Take some timeTime is one of the hardest concepts to convey to people. We all want immediate results, but with bipolar disorder, so-called overnight success can, in fact, extend to years. Studies show that it can take 10 years or more to even obtain an accurate diagnosis (Living with Bipolar Disorder: How Far Have We Really Come? Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance [DBSA] Constituency Survey, 2001). In my own case, it took eight years before someone accurately put a name to my struggle.
With bipolar disorder, there are simply no quick fixes. Thinking there is a miracle cure only makes matters worse, so instead, help your loved one set realistic goals. The road to recovery is not a straight shot; it’s a winding path with delays, downtimes, and detours. Remember progress can be made, but it takes time. Let patience be your guide.
3. Face the factsBe willing to acknowledge that bipolar disorder is a legitimate disorder. Saying something like, “It’s all in your head,” or “Just snap out of it,” denies that reality. As with diabetes or cancer, bipolar disorder requires medical treatment and management. And as with other chronic conditions, bipolar disorder is initially unfamiliar and frequently unpredictable. It can be gut-wrenching and at times, scary.
It also helps to face the facts when it comes to our current mental health system. If you find it to be disorganized and disconnected, imagine what the patient is experiencing. With your support, a patient can be guided through the maze, find the best care, and stick to a workable treatment plan.
4. Adopt the right attitudeHow you see things does matter. With the amount of stigma and discrimination that exist in society at large, the last thing a patient needs is misguided thinking coming from family and friends. More support is needed, not more shame. The more your response is based on reality and not on myths, the more your support can make a difference.
All too often, family members make a loved one feel as though it isn’t bipolar but rather a character flaw or something brought on by the person. Some even view an occasional setback as though it spells permanent doom. Such flawed thinking may be common, but it’s harmful to the person facing bipolar disorder who needs constructive feedback, not destructive rhetoric.
5. Get educatedPeople who have bipolar disorder often deny that anything’s wrong, and frequently, they don’t stay on their medications. It’s important to learn about these and other nuances of the disorder. Fortunately, there are many resources available today, especially compared to 25 years ago, not the least of which is the Internet.
A national clothing store uses the slogan: “An educated consumer is our best customer.” To support your loved one, consider adopting a similar notion. An educated family member or friend is our best advocate and our greatest source of support.
6. Treat us like adultsA psychiatrist once commented that my body (at the time) was 30-years-old physically, but I was 45 intellectually, and 15 emotionally. Talk about a tough pill to swallow! Bipolar disorder can arrest a person’s emotional maturity and produce behavior that appears very childish and reckless.
Please remember, however, that while someone who has bipolar may act like a child, there is an adult underneath. The world of the person who has bipolar disorder can be full of chaos and confusion, and low self-esteem is common. It can make a big difference when you continue to acknowledge and show respect for the grown human being who is struggling behind all the symptoms.
7. Give us some spaceLiving with a serious illness is a daunting task. It can be a foreign concept to separate yourself from someone you want to help. But as a support person, it is best to establish a loving distance between yourself and the person who has bipolar.
Set boundaries and establish consequences that encourage those who have bipolar to seek recovery on their own, all the while expressing your concern and willingness to help. Be supportive, patient, and understanding—without being used. Effective encouragement is helpful; enabling is not.
An educated family member or friend is our best advocate and our greatest source of support.
8. Forget the pastFrustration often accompanies bipolar disorder. Family and friends can spend countless hours—if not years—wondering what went wrong. Avoid making matters worse by wallowing in the past.
Pointing fingers solves nothing, blaming is not the answer, and getting angry only makes matters worse. Bitterness and resentment can sometimes act as a trigger and incite more of the behavior you want to stop. Instead, focus on helping make tomorrow better. That’s true support.
9. Take care of yourselfThe family suffers right along with the person who has bipolar disorder, so, it’s important for you to develop your own coping skills. Only if you take care of yourself can you help. All too often caregivers end up becoming ill.
During training, emergency medical technicians are taught to never put their lives in obvious jeopardy to save someone else’s. If they did so, they’d be unable to help anyone. Likewise the same is true for you while you are caring for your loved one. Remember that you have yourself—and probably others—to care for as well.
10. Find a healthy balanceThere are so many questions: “How much should I be willing to do?” “Should we use tough love?” “How long does this go on?” “How long should we wait before we intervene?” and on and on and on. Bipolar disorder is tough. It’s like walking a tightrope sometimes, where you’ve got to learn to balance your own welfare with the interest you have in supporting the person with bipolar.
You also have to find a healthy balance when it comes to the support you offer. Learn to take things in stride, one day at a time. There’s a time to help and a time to step back; a time to speak and a time to listen; a time to be patient and a time to be insistent.
Now, you have some valuable points to ponder as you help your loved one pursue recovery. The more you’re in the know, the better equipped you are to offer the type of support that can make a positive difference. The reward is a brighter, happier future—for everyone involved.
I know it’s worth the effort.
Printed as “Points to ponder: Help from parents, partners, and pals”, Fall 2005 bphope.com
October is a special month because it has a variety of mental health "awareness" days:
How Can Mental Health Screening Help?
Screening for Mental Health
Do you think mental health screening can help address deficiencies in our nation’s approach to diagnosing the treating mood disorders? Policymakers certainly think so: mental health screening is an essential component of several pieces of legislation, incorporating the finding that early detection of mental health conditions increases the likelihood of successful treatment.
Mental health screening is private and anonymous, cost-effective, quick, and accessible, and it provides information and encouragement for people to seek help early. This Thursday is National Depression Screening Day, so there’s still time to rally your network to participate! Here, the nonprofit organization Screening for Mental Health tells why screening is important and how it supports workplace mental health.
Why mental health matters in the workplace
It is estimated that about one-third of those with a mental illness are employed. And according to the National Institute on Mental Illness, nearly a quarter of the U.S. workforce (28 million workers ages 18-54) will experience a mental or substance abuse disorder. Despite these significant statistics, 71 percent of workers with mental illnesses have never sought help from a medical or mental health specialist for their symptoms.
When left untreated, mental illness can be costly both to the individual and the workforce, even more so if an employee’s depression is linked to substance abuse.
• A RAND Corporation study found that patients with depressive symptoms spend more days in bed than those with diabetes, arthritis, back problems, lung problems, or gastrointestinal disorders
• Depression accounts for close to $12 billion in lost workdays each year
• More than $11 billion in other costs accrue from decreased productivity due to symptoms that cause problems with energy levels, concentration, memory, and decision making.
As we know, the good news for employers and employees is that depression is treatable. According to the World Health Organization, the vast majority (60-80 percent) of people with depression will improve with proper diagnosis and treatment.
How screening helps workplace mental health
Early intervention and prevention programs can be integral in managing symptoms of mental illness and improving treatment outcomes. Anonymous online screenings are an effective way to reach employees who need help the most. A screening program can also work well for small organizations that lack official EAP services. Quality mental health programs for employees can reduce stigma, raise awareness, teach managers how to recognize symptoms and help organizations effectively assist depressed employees.
It is important to assess work environments for effective mental health policies and programs. From employee morale to the company’s bottom line, mental health can affect all areas of the workplace. When the mental health of one employee is prioritized, the entire organization will benefit.
“Help Yourself, Help Others” to Get Screened on October 10
The nonprofit Screening for Mental Health offers National Depression Screening Day programs for the military, colleges and universities, community-based organizations, and businesses. Held annually during Mental Illness Awareness Week in October, National Depression Screening Day (NDSD) raises awareness and screens people for depression and related mood and anxiety disorders. This year, NDSD is on Thursday, October 10.
NDSD is the nation’s oldest voluntary, community-based screening program that provides referral information for treatment. Through the program, more than half a million people each year have been screened for depression since 1991. Anonymous online depression screenings are available for the public at www.HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org.
When you had a concern about your (or a loved one’s) mental health, have you used an online screening? How did it help?
Does your employer offer mental health screenings or other programs for a mentally healthy workplace?
For more information on participating in National Depression Screening Day please contact Michelle Holmberg at 781-239-0071 or by email. Information is also available at the Screening for Mental Health website and www.helpyourselfhelpothers.org.
Care for Your Mind has several posts about workplace mental health! Click on the “workplace” tag in the right-hand column.
I must say, I am concerned for my grandchildren at times. They are young kiddos enjoying their devices at length. Of course, I want for them to develop a healthy balance in their relationship with these awesome (and permanent) extensions of humanity. Yet, how do they learn and keep balance in the ever changing landscape of technology? I'm not the only grand parent in my circle of friends with these same concerns.
S.L. Brannon D.Div..