This week sees the start of National Mental Health week; and given everything going on in the world right now, it couldn’t have come soon enough!
Covid 19 has touched the lives of virtually everyone on the planet. Lives have been put on hold and businesses decimated as the world has essentially shut up shop to help limit the spread of the virus; aiming to protect both the most vulnerable in society and our healthcare system.
At the time of writing, we’re on our 44th day of lockdown. While this is helping to flatten the curve of infections and protect our NHS, it has meant that for many, social and personal interactions have become severely limited. This might be helping curb the spread of Covid 19, but the long-term effect social distancing and isolation can have on our mental health can be extremely damaging.
Whilst maintaining positive physical wellbeing is commonplace, there is still something of a stigma around mental health – but the thing is, this really shouldn’t be the case; especially when we consider that over 15.4 million working days were lost in 2016 alone due to mental health-related illnesses – that’s an astonishing figure!
It’s for these reasons that concentrating on supporting positive mental health should be a priority for everyone; however, there is still something of a stigma around open discussions of mental health, and some rather large myths about the subject, too.
So, let’s start separating the fact from fiction and busting 7 of the most common mental health myths.
Myth #1: Suffering from mental health problems is a sign of weakness
First and foremost, suffering from a mental illness – regardless of how minor it may be – is not a sign of weakness; either of character or of mind. Think of it this way: if you were to break a leg in an accident or sprain you ankle on a walk, you wouldn’t put it down to being physically weak, would you? Mental health issues are no different.
Mental health problems can affect anyone, from any age and any background. Suffering from a mental health illness also isn’t down to the way someone handles problems in their lives; and there’s a whole host of contributing factors, too. These can include biological factors such as our genes, brain chemistry and family mental health history, to our own life experiences – such as abuse, trauma or physical injury.
The thing to remember is that there’s no singular cause behind experiencing mental health problems, and they can affect anyone – no matter how ‘strong’ they may be.
Myth #2: Mental health problems can be quickly ‘fixed’
Whilst as a society we’re beginning to break down the stigma of openly facing mental health challenges, it doesn’t mean that once a problem is out in the open it can be resolved quickly – it’s quite the opposite in fact.
Mental health problems such as anxiety or depression for example, can build up over time and often go unnoticed – almost becoming an aspect of a person’s personality. When they become this ingrained, managing negative feelings effectively and treating them can become a life-long journey. It’s for this reason that beating the stigma of mental health problems is so important, as the quicker we can identify there’s a potential problem, the quicker we can take positive steps to overcome it and ensure it doesn’t become the dominant factor in our lives.
Myth #3: “I don’t suffer from mental health problems”
Us Brits are known round the world for our ‘Keep Calm, Carry On’ demeanour, and whilst it’s no doubt an admirable quality, this trait can contribute to poor mental health.
It’s a fact that many people feel uncomfortable seeking help for mental health concerns or even talking about them openly. As a result, it’s often the case that they’ll simply bury those feelings or simply try to ignore them altogether – which in the long term, simply isn’t sustainable or healthy!
The fact of the matter is that we’re all susceptible to mental health problems; from more minor afflictions such as feelings of anxiety or panic attacks, to more serious problems like depression and even PTSD.
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Myth #4: Feeling depressed is a choice
One of the more harmful stigmas surrounding mental health is that depression is something people can easily ‘snap out’ of or something people simply ‘choose’ to be. This is of course, simply nonsense.
It’s generally believed that depression occurs because of an imbalance of important mood-regulating chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters. Much like the physical comparison we mentioned earlier, you can’t just mend a broken leg by simply ‘getting over it’. The same is true of a person suffering from depression – you can’t adjust your brain’s neurotransmitters and turn off feelings of depression at will!
Myth #5: Talking doesn’t help
One of the most common misconceptions people have about mental health issues is that talking to others won’t solve them; or, more to the point, events which may have triggered them.
Whilst talking may not able to change the outcome of a traumatic event, talking with someone can help you resolve your feelings and come to terms with what has happened or initially triggered it. It can also provide a fresh perspective on challenges you might be facing, and also alert people close to you that you need that little extra bit of support.
The simple act of talking to someone is an effective way to both manage feelings such as anxiety and overcome a problem you may have been carrying around in your head for some time. In fact, just being listened to can help you feel supported and less alone; and the best part? It works both ways! If you feel more comfortable about talking and opening up about how you’re doing, it might just encourage others to do the same – which can only be a good thing.
Myth #6: Self harm only involves physical acts
When we think of the term ‘self-harm’, it’s more than likely we’ll think of someone perhaps physically harming their body. However, self-harm takes many forms, and not all of them immediately obvious.
Unresolved mental health problems can manifest themselves negatively both physically and behaviourally. People who are struggling to deal with more serious concerns – such as depression or PTSD – may resort to potentially harmful behaviour; such as excessive eating, drinking or placing themselves in deliberately dangerous situations.
The key thing to remember is that these types of actions will often be out of character for someone and something they simply can’t consciously control, so if you’re seeing someone you know behave or act differently, they may be mentally suffering in silence and their behaviour may be a cry for help.
Myth #7: Stress and depression are only caused by traumatic events
Stress, depression and, to a more serious extent post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD), don’t require a significantly traumatic event to be triggered.
Research commissioned by Mind has found that work is the most stressful factor in people’s lives with one in three people (34 per cent) saying their work life was either very or quite stressful, more so than debt or financial problems (30 per cent) or health (17 per cent). Fast forward to today and the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic, and a new YouGov polling for the IPPR think tank found that 50% of 996 healthcare workers questioned across the UK said their mental health had deteriorated since the virus reached UK shores.
The 9-5 daily grind (regardless of whether we’re working from home or not!), stressful commutes or demanding jobs – such as working in hospitals or care centres – can all take their toll on our mental wellbeing and if not managed effectively, lead to more serious mental problems. This is why we need to break the stigmas around mental health and feel more confident in reaching out for help if we begin to feel overwhelmed.
If you’re a healthcare professional and you feel like you need some dedicated support from a professional – be that is a Psychologist, Psychiatrist or a Councellor – we have the resources to connect you with the mental health support you need.
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