Challenging common myths and misconceptions about mental health

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30 September 2023 

Writer: K Ballesteros
Researcher: K Ballesteros
Graphics: Jia Moral, Ian Stephen Velez
Moderators: Richardson Mojica

Mental health literacy is an important aspect of advocating for mental health in the Philippines; literacy can challenge, address, and redress harmful stigma surrounding mental health in general and mental health conditions in particular. Through this, mental health literacy also prevents harmful discrimination and discriminatory acts from taking place. 

Despite long-standing mental health literacy and awareness-raising campaigns from concerned groups, myths about mental health persist. Some of the most resistant and pervasive myths include the following:

Misconception 1: “Depression and Anxiety are  not  real illnesses” or “Nagdadrama ka lang!” 

Fact: Both depression and anxiety, and other mood disorders, are real conditions with wide-ranging effects on an individual’s wellbeing, and their capacity to function in their daily lives. Mood disorders and other mental health conditions can decrease productivity, affect interpersonal relationships, and isolate individuals from loved ones. Mental health conditions might vary in their severity, but mood disorders such as depression and anxiety are recognized as complex conditions that should receive treatment. 

Misconception 2: “You’re weak if you have a mental health condition” or “Ang hina kasi ng loob mo!”

Fact: Mental health conditions affect all of us, without discrimination. Mental health conditions like Bipolar Disorder (BPD), Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and others are not a choice [3]. According to the World Health Organization, various factors—community, socioeconomic factors, poverty, trauma, life experiences, and inequality—present adverse circumstances that put people at risk of developing mental health conditions. Individual strength or weakness alone do not determine an individual’s risk for developing these conditions. Further, mental health conditions are considered illnesses that require medical attention.

Misconception 3: “Mental health is only for the rich!” or “Pang-mayaman lang ang sakit na ‘yan.” 

Fact: The World Health Organization (WHO) has been clear in their declaration that there is no health without mental health [2]. Every Filipino, regardless of socioeconomic standing, has the right to health and to well-being, in which they can achieve their potential, work productively, and contribute to their community. The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (UNOHCHR) reported that “people with mental health conditions and those with psychosocial disabilities experience disproportionately higher rates of poor physical health” [1], which firmly points to mental health as a critically important human rights issue, and a concern for citizens across every income band. However: this misconception deftly points to the reality of material inequality, where those with mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities experience stigma and discrimination which perpetuates inequality and restricts their access to opportunities [1]. 

Misconception 4: “Medication for mental health conditions are bad!” or “Hindi naman gumagana yung mga gamot na ‘yan.” 

Fact: As with other illnesses and physical conditions, mental health conditions require treatment plans that often include pharmacological interventions. Medication might be necessary to help an individual function normally. Often, other interventions like therapy can supplement and complement medication to further improve an individual’s quality of life [5]. 

Given the prevalence of misconceptions surrounding mental health, mental health literacy and an understanding of stigma can be useful tools to redress and challenge these pervasive myths. Stigma comes from a lack of understanding, ignorance, or misinformation surrounding mental health. To address stigma, here are two useful tools that individuals and advocates can use in response to misconceptions [7]: 

  1. Be mindful of your words: Avoid insensitive and hurtful words, terms, phrases which might perpetuate discriminatory and inaccurate stereotypes about persons living with mental health conditions, or mental health conditions themselves. 
  2. Speak up when you hear inappropriate remarks or comments, or when you encounter these misconceptions in daily life: don’t allow the misconceptions to be heard without being addressed, and then corrected.

 

Guide Questions: 

  1. What myths about mental health have you encountered? How did you respond? 
  2. What is the most effective way to address mental health myths and misconceptions online? 
  3. How do you spot mental health myths and misconceptions? What signs can we watch out for?

 

Post-session Activity: 

  1. Drop your favorite resources for addressing mental health misconceptions!

 

 

 

Works Cited:

[1] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (UNOHCR), Mental health is a human right, 24 may 2018: https://www.ohchr.org/en/stories/2018/05/mental-health-human-right

 

[2] World health Organization (WHO), Mental disorders, 08 June 2022, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders 

 

[3] United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Busted: 7 myths about mental health, https://www.unicef.org/parenting/health/busted-7-myths-about-mental-health

 

[4] Galicia, Jhun Robbie (2018),  A psychiatrist’s view: Common misconceptions about mental health.Rappler. 02 October. https://www.rappler.com/voices/imho/214742-psychiatrist-view-mental-health-misconceptions/

 

[5]  National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Six Myths and Facts about Mental Illness, 01 Oct 2019. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2019/Six-Myths-and-Facts-about-Mental-Illness

 

[6] American Psychiatric Association (APA). Mental Health and Men of Color: Addressing Common Misconceptions. 24 July 2023. https://www.psychiatry.org/news-room/apa-blogs/mental-health-and-men-of-color 

[7] Health Direct, Mental illness stigma, September 2021. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/mental-illness-stigma

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