Why Mental Health Myths Are MORE HARMFUL Than You Imagined

Myths in life are unavoidable. Some are so persistent that they are communicated from one generation to another. One of the first myths I encountered is that “kids with two crowns (aka “whorls”) on their heads are more difficult and naughtier. ” I soon realized that I was the one described in that myth, since I had two crowns, and my relatives were prescribing this readily available generalization to understand their small worlds.

Sometimes we laugh at the myths. It can be joked about. But there are many other myths that are inaccurate and can become harmful in certain contexts. Imagine a scenario where my parents took it as an indisputable fact that I was determined to be a “naughty and difficult child” since I was born due to the fact that I had two whorls, they might have treated me differently to my siblings. I might become the scapegoat for any wrongdoings, I might become the target of their blame.

Photo taken by Mass Comm, UCSI University during event “Mental Health: Need Help, Seek Help”

Which brings us to myths in the field of Psychology or Mental Health. You have probably heard of myths such as “Psychologists can read your mind”, or “People with Mental Illnesses are crazy” etc. These are some of the myths which have been perpetuating harmful effects in our society, partly due to media misrepresentation or lack of understanding.

If we still think that psychology is about mind-reading, we will undermine its contribution to society, from a personal (managing our own emotions) to a regional level (promoting national unity). If we still think that people with mental illnesses are crazy, we will continue promoting discrimination in our familial and workplace settings. People will abstain from seeking help due to their fears of being stigmatized. Below are some other myths that are commonly held by people when it comes to mental health.

 

Photo taken by Mass Comm, UCSI University during event “Mental Health: Need Help, Seek Help”

 

Myth 1: Only professionals can deal with mental illnesses

If we think that only mental health professionals can deal with mental illnesses, we are undermining our own abilities to support and empower our loved ones, especially when they are in emotional distress. In general, clients only spend about 15-20 minutes with a psychiatrist and have about 1-1.5 hour with a clinical psychologist/counsellor for psychotherapy in a typical session. Who will interact with the clients for the rest of the day then?

It is us: as friends, partners, or family members.

But how can we support them?

  • Take the steps to learn the correct information from professionals (don’t trust everything on the internet / social media)
  • Be empathetic (perspective-taking, nonjudgmental, stand in their shoes)
  • Listen more (they need to be understood, allow them to express rather than giving them advice directly)
  • Refer if necessary (support and refer them to seek help from professionals such as counselors, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists etc)

 

Photo taken by Mass Comm, UCSI University during event “Mental Health: Need Help, Seek Help”

 

Myth 2: Depression is about being sad, “emo”, pessimistic. They can’t recover from it

Asking people that are struggling with depression to stay cheerful and happy can be like asking people with short-sightedness (myopia) to JUST FOCUS more when looking at things from afar without wearing spectacles. If we know what depression really is as a clinical condition, we will acknowledge their struggles, and the fact that recovery won’t happen with a snap of fingers. We will understand that it is just like physical illnesses, requiring our support and treatment along the way. Given sufficient amount of support from professionals and from their family, many individuals with mental health concerns can do well in their communities, their career and their relationship with others.

 

Myth 3: People who talk about suicide are only doing so to get others’ attention

About 1 in 3 individuals expressed their suicide intentions verbally or via writing before committing suicide. There will often be a period of hesitation with individuals deciding whether to proceed with their suicide plan or not. When they talk about suicide, they are not only hoping for your kind attention, they need your immediate attention.

Most suicides happen with warning signs and “talking about dying / suicide ideation” is a clear “Get Help” signal. Talking about suicide won’t plant an idea in someone’s mind. Instead, it is one of the most effective ways for them to open up about their feelings and thoughts.

It brings out the message that “It is okay to talk about it”.

Warning Signs of Suicide, Adapted from my slides presentation

 

To break myths or combat against mental health stigma,

We have to Learn . Share . Apply

 

Learn about the right information:

You have read this article, it is the first step to realize the importance to know the truths behind the myths.

 

Share the right information:

We all have the power to share info online or offline. The power to share resides in every individual, use it wisely and educate the people around you too.

 

Apply the right skills and knowledge:

Be understanding and acknowledge the importance of mental health. Know where to get the right help. Be a supportive person not only to those around you, but also to yourself. Don’t be overly critical over your own mistakes, acknowledge that we can fall short from time to time. Take good care of yourself, take a break for a coffee or a movie after a long day.

 

Hopefully, there comes a day when someone talks about mental illness / health, he or she is welcomed with the understanding and respect of others, followed by warm support and love from the community.

 

This article sums up the gist of my sharing in the Mental Health event: Need Help, Seek Help organized by UCSI University (Mass Comm Department). I would like to thank the organizing committee for making this event happen and also appreciate SOLS Health for providing me with this opportunity to share my knowledge in debunking the myths and combating against mental health stigmas in the community. Million thanks to Jia Yee and Aida from SOLS Health for assisting me during the day. 

Cover Photo by UCSI University (Mass Comm Department) during event: “Mental Health Event: Need Help, Seek Help”

Know more about SOLS Health here.

 

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Hailing from Sandakan, Sabah (The Land Below the Wind), Gary Yap has developed a keen interest in psychology and mental health issues ever since he was 15 years old. After receiving a Bachelor’s Degree of Psychology in HELP University, he volunteered at the Psychiatric Department of Duchess of Kent Hospital and worked as a para-counsellor at a private psychiatric clinic. He later completed his Master’s in Clinical Psychology at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.

During his training in becoming a clinical psychologist, Gary was professionally trained at the Health Psychology Clinic, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia; the Psychiatry Department, in Hospital Kajang; and the Psychiatry Department in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre.

Gary is currently a clinical psychologist associate at SOLS Health and also the director of MY Psychology (Malaysia’s Leading Online Psychology Educational Platform) where he and his team utilized the strength of social media to increase psychological literacy and awareness about mental health issues in the public community. With the motto of “Learn . Share . Apply”, he is striving to build a society where psychology is for everyone.

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