Dispelling myths about mental health can help break the stigma and create a culture that encourages people of any age to seek support when they need it. Here are seven common misconceptions about mental health:
- Myth: If a person has a mental health condition, it means the person has low intelligence.
Fact: Mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class, or income level.
- Myth: You only need to take care of your mental health if you have a mental health condition.
Fact: Everyone can benefit from taking active steps to promote their well-being and improve their mental health. Similarly, everyone can take active steps and engage in healthy habits to optimize their physical health.
- Myth: Poor mental health is not a big issue for teenagers. They just have mood swings caused by hormonal fluctuations and act out due to a desire for attention.
Fact: Teenagers often have mood swings, but that does not mean that adolescents may not also struggle with their mental health. Fourteen per cent of the world’s adolescents experience mental-health problems. Globally, among those aged 10–15, suicide is the fifth most prevalent cause of death, and for adolescents aged 15–19 it is the fourth most common cause. Half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14.
- Myth: Nothing can be done to protect people from developing mental health conditions.
Fact: Many factors can protect people from developing mental health conditions, including strengthening social and emotional skills, seeking help and support early on, developing supportive, loving, warm family relationships, and having a positive school environment and healthy sleep patterns. The ability to overcome adversity relies on a combination of protective factors, and neither environmental nor individual stressors alone will necessarily result in mental health problems. Children and adolescents who do well in the face of adversity typically have biological resistance as well as strong, supportive relationships with family, friends and adults around them, resulting in a combination of protective factors to support well-being.
- Myth: A mental health condition is a sign of weakness; if the person were stronger, they would not have this condition.
Fact: A mental health condition has nothing to do with being weak or lacking willpower. It is not a condition people choose to have or not have. In fact, recognizing the need to accept help for a mental health condition requires great strength and courage. Anyone can develop a mental health condition.
- Myth: Adolescents who get good grades and have a lot of friends will not have mental health conditions because they have nothing to be depressed about.
Fact: Depression is a common mental health condition resulting from a complex interaction of social, psychological, and biological factors. Depression can affect anyone regardless of their socioeconomic status or how good their life appears at face value. Young people doing well in school may feel pressure to succeed, which can cause anxiety, or they may have challenges at home. They may also experience depression or anxiety for no reason that can be easily identified.
- Myth: Bad parenting causes mental conditions in adolescents.
Fact: Many factors – including poverty, unemployment, and exposure to violence, migration, and other adverse circumstances and events – may influence the well-being and mental health of adolescents, their caregivers and the relationship between them. Adolescents from loving, supporting homes can experience mental health difficulties, as can adolescent from homes where there may be caregivers who need support to maintain an optimum environment for healthy adolescent development. With support, caregivers can play an essential role in helping adolescents to overcome any problems they experience.
(This article is based on UNICEF and the World Health Organization’s Teacher’s Guide to the Magnificent Mei and Friends Comic Series.)