In the first nine months of the pandemic, Americans reported rates of anxiety and depression six times higher than those documented in 2019, according to a report published in the journal of Translational Behavioral Medicine. And though a bigger, more open conversation around mental health has certainly been a long time coming, the events of the past couple of years have certainly brought the topic into the spotlight.
“As a result, there has been increased talk that has normalized the experiences of mental health stress and increased acceptance of the notion of treatment as a positive action in the self-care movement,” says Mayra Mendez, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., a licensed psychotherapist at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica.
And though progress has been made in terms of mental health awareness and resources available, many mental health myths still permeate much of society.
Considering the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five Americans suffers from a mental health condition, it’s time to put those misconceptions to bed once and for all. Here, experts debunk some of the biggest mental health myths still floating around out there.
Myth: You can ‘Shake Off’ depression
This is one of the most damaging and pervasive mental health myths people encounter. “We live in a society that encourages us to just ‘shake it off’ or pull ourselves together when we’re feeling down, denying the real lived experience of depression that many Americans face each day,” explains Saba Harouni Lurie, L.M.F.T., founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles. You see, depression is a clinical diagnosis—a medical condition, not a mindset. “Depression can cause real physiological stress responses and is something that we can control about as much as we can control the weather,” she says.
There are tools, like therapy and medications, that can be utilized to taper the effects of depression and manage the symptoms, but depression doesn’t just go away. “The idea that depression is something you can just do away with on your own is incredibly damaging, especially to those who suffer from depression and have internalized that messaging,” Lurie adds.
Myth: Physical health is more important than mental health
Because physical health is something we can often see with our own eyes (and our society loves to obsess over appearance), we tend to emphasize its importance. However, our mental and physical health are both vital—and, in fact, are deeply connected. “Something as simple as moving our bodies for 20 minutes a day, getting in the sunshine, or making sure we’re not lacking essential vitamins and minerals can greatly improve our mental health,” says Kaitlin Soule, L.M.F.T., author of A Little Less of a Hot Mess: The Modern Mom’s Guide to Growth & Evolution. “And, when we are mentally well, we often experience fewer aches, pains, and physical ailments and are more motivated to take better care of our mental health.”
Myth: You have to ‘need’ therapy to benefit from it
Many people operate under the notion that therapy is something only those who suffer should explore. Yet, therapy can benefit anyone. “There is no threshold one has to cross in order to go,” says Lurie. “Perpetuating this myth is particularly damaging because it tells people that if they aren’t ‘suffering enough’ then they shouldn’t seek help.”
Bottom line: Anyone who wants help, should and deserves to receive help, no matter their problems or level of suffering. Whether it’s relationship troubles, a desired career change, or navigating a new phase of life, therapy can help us move through our human experience more healthily.
Myth: Paying for a therapist makes the relationship ingenuine
While therapy costs money in the same way that a personal trainer or an acupuncturist does, some people seem to think that the cost makes the experience too transactional. “It goes without saying that professional football coaches care for their players, yet they’re paid for their expertise,” says Lurie. “Therapists are no different and their care for their clients extends far beyond their sessions.”
Consider this notion yet another poor reason to avoid seeking mental healthcare that you can go ahead and let go of.
Myth: Mental health sufferers are often dangerous
For a long time, a lack of understanding about mental health led many to believe that those suffering were dangerous or should be feared. “Such perceptions contribute to negative judgments that result in rejection, alienation, and dismissal of people based on misinformation and unfounded assumptions about mental illness,” warns Mendez.
If you need a clear example of how off-base this assumption is, consider this: One study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that factors like divorce or separation or financial issues were more linked to violent acts than mental illness.
Myth: Only People with Clinical Anxiety Get Panic Attacks
Panic attacks are serious episodes of intense anxiety and heightened fear that include symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, chest tightness, sweating, stomach upset, and fear of losing control or fear of dying, according to Johanna Kaplan, Ph.D., director of the Washington Anxiety Center of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
And while many think these episodes are rare, an estimated one out of every 75 people will experience a panic attack in their lifetime, according to the American Psychological Association.
Read More: 4 Unexpected Ways To Manage Stress Naturally
Despite being more common than many think, panic attacks should not be taken lightly. If you experience a panic attack (and especially if you have two or more within a few weeks), Kaplan recommends reaching out for help immediately. “It’s better to stop the pattern of panic attacks than let them become full-blown panic disorder,” she explains.
Myth: Talking about anxiety with Kids Will Make Them Anxious
Many parents worry that talking about anxiety to their children will introduce the concept in a way that ultimately fosters the experience in them. Rest assured, this is far from true, Kaplan says. “If you model anxiety (acting scared about spiders, for example) and do not address it as anxiety, then your kid is actually more likely to learn anxious behaviors,” she explains. “Pointing out what makes us anxious makes it easier for us to confront it and treat it.” So, consider this another one of those mental health myths we can finally put to bed.