We are all prone to having bad days. If you’re human, it’s inevitable that a fight with a loved one, politics at work or even a rainy day can turn your whole mood upside down. For most of us, spending time with friends, venting or watching a movie can bring our mindset back up a notch. But, for those suffering from mental health disorders, there is no “just getting over it” or just one or two “bad days”. Illnesses like depression, OCD, and bipolar disorder can be debilitating, and make life unbearable, and it’s only made worse by the misconceptions brought on by people who don’t fully understand.
So, let’s debunk those misconceptions.
The Truth About Mental Health Disorders
All mental health disorders are medical conditions, like asthma or diabetes, and they deserve to be treated with the same level of severity. It can often be harder to diagnose a mental illness than something like high cholesterol, and many people have difficulty stepping forward and asking for help. Mental illness is not a weakness or a personality trait, and it should not be a defining characteristic of a person.
The National Institute of Mental Health states that an estimated 4.3 million adults in the United States suffer from a mental illness in the year of 2015. That number represents 17.9% of the adult US population, so this is not a subject to be taken lightly.
Each case of mental illness is unique to the individual. Though there are a multitude of mental illnesses, some of the most common ones that are misunderstood are depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, and narcissism. Below are four powerful videos that go into further detail about these disorders.
Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world, and it affects 10% of the population in the United States. There is a BIG difference between feeling depressed (which we all do from time to time), and having depression. Depression can last for at least two consecutive weeks, and can greatly affect the individual in all aspects of life by stripping them of their energy level, appetite, concentration, and mood.
The word bipolar means “two extremes” and that’s exactly the mindset of those suffering from this disorder. People with bipolar disorder fluctuate between extreme highs, called manic episodes, and extreme lows of depression. These highs aren’t as simple as feeling extreme happiness. They often bring on racing thoughts, sleeplessness, rapid speech, impulsive actions and risky behavior that can be just as dangerous and detrimental to the individual as the long episodes of depression associated with bipolar disorder.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is often represented in popular media as the obsession to organize objects and clean, but that definition misses the mark and does not display the severity of the illness. Repetitive, or ritualistic behaviors are common for many people who enjoy structure in their lives, but it does not mean that those individuals have OCD.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder encompasses two aspects:
1) the intrusive thoughts and impulses are known as obsessions
2) the behavioral compulsions that people engage in to relieve the anxiety that stems from the obsessions.
The people affected have little or no control over their obsessive thoughts, and are often painfully aware that their obsessions are irrational, which is what makes the illness so difficult to live with on a daily basis.
Narcissism is an elevated and grandiose view of the self, which can often be detrimental. They often think that they are better looking, smarter and more important than other people and that they deserve special treatment. Most of us can probably think of someone in our lives that fits this description, but being diagnosed with narcissism goes much further than the average thoughts of self-worth.
What turns this into an actual mental disorder is when these traits take over people’s lives and cause significant problems, particularly with relationships to other individuals.
Narcissistic personality disorder affects 1-2% of the population, and it is often difficult to diagnose because many people who have it are unaware of the effect that it has on their lives.
The road to recovery for any illness is not an easy one, and the first step in combating mental health is to seek help. But, that’s not always an easy step to take.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it takes the average person struggling with a mental illness over 10 years to ask for help. Many people are embarrassed, or don’t believe that their illness is “bad enough”. Seeking help is essential in learning to live a balanced life. If you have someone in your life that has a mental illness, encourage them in a positive, supportive, and non-judgemental way to seek help.
Spread the Love for Mental Health
Educate yourself and share these videos with loved ones
The first step to making a difference is to understand the truth. Learning as much as you can about mental health allows you to educate others in your life, which will spread awareness about the importance of mental health. Many people are visual learners, which is where these videos will come in handy. So take some time to watch these videos, learn about these illnesses, and spread the word.
Be sensitive to your word choice
Sadly, it’s become common for people to dismissively place words in their everyday conversation that diminish the symptoms of many mental illnesses. By saying things like “I’m so OCD about that” or “she looks in the mirror a lot, she’s a narcissist” you are demeaning the people who are actually struggling with these disorders. Many people who are struggling with mental health choose to hide their battle, and by saying these offensive phrases you may injure someone without meaning to. Be sensitive to the people around you and choose better language to express yourself.
Support others who have a mental illness, but don’t “feel sorry” for them
Many people who are struggling with mental health disorders feel vulnerable and afraid. It is very important that you support them through their process. People are stronger together than they are alone, and your loved one will need you in order to sort through the day-to-day insecurities of living with their illness.
An illness does not define a person and it’s important that you treat your loved one as an individual instead of simply feeling sorry for them. Treat people as people, not as a diagnosis.
Whether you or a loved one is struggling with mental health, or you simply want to learn more about the disorders, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in the journey. Mental health awareness is growing, but there is still a long way to go both in science and in public perception. Mental illness is something that affects people of all ages, genders, positions, and experiences, but together we are strong and we can change that negative perception.
Here are some more great reading materials on understanding mental illness:
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health. (2015). Depression (NIH Publication No. 15-3561). Bethesda, MD: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved on October 13, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-what-you-need-to-know/index.shtml