Fiction is a great way to explore ourselves, the world around us, and our imaginations, but it also has the potential to spread mental illness myths. Not surprisingly, that includes myths about the people who live with mental illness. Unfortunately, the myths are more often than not harmful to people with mental illness in the real world.
Mental Illness Myths
Coping methods are personal choices, so I'm going to come out and say it: people need to stop criticizing others for how they cope with mental illness. As long as the coping methods aren't hurting the people who use them or others, I don't see the issue. Although I'm sure some are trying to joke around, when you ridicule the very tools people use to get through tough moments, it has a negative impact on those with mental illness and contributes to stigma.
The idea of "normal" mental health affects me as someone who struggles with mental illness. I often fall prey to the idea that mental health is something I can only achieve by becoming more like “normal” people. In an age of health coaches and self-help gurus, it can be easy to believe that the ability to conform to a more widely accepted lifestyle is the answer to all mental health problems. Unfortunately, rather than offering a solution, the myth of normal mental health creates more stigma around mental illness.
No one can diagnose an eating disorder by looking at someone's body type; yet, when we think about eating disorders, there are probably two images that pop into our minds: Someone who’s painfully thin and another person who’s largely overweight. The problem with that kind of thinking is instead of seeing eating disorders as mental illnesses, we see them as body types. As harmless as it may seem, if you try to diagnose an eating disorder by body type, it is a form of mental health stigma.
Part of the romanticism of mental illnesses is that someone who is mentally ill can be cured by love or that someone can be a cure for someone else's mental illness. We see this in media and it seeps into real life to the point that people don’t understand why we can’t stop being depressed or anxious for them (How to Cope With a Loved One's Mental Illness). What people need to realize is although being loved can make dealing with mental illness easier, love does not cure mental illness.
“Man up” is some of the most unhelpful, stigmatizing advice a person can give to a man with mental illness. Recently, Piers Morgan has come under fire for questioning a statistic that says two-thirds of Britain’s population has experienced mental illness in their lifetime (Mental Health Statistics and Facts). The problem wasn’t necessarily that he was questioning the statistic, but his statement of Britain needing to “man up.” When this is applied to mental illness, "man up" just increased mental health stigma.
There are many ways that fitness can help you fight mental health stigma. One of the ways people form stigmatizing beliefs about those with mental health issues is that they think they are lazy for not working or engaging in society. Mental health stigma makes people believe these myths, but myths can be busted by more individuals who have a mental illness getting healthy exercise and improving their fitness levels.
Stigma affects those with psychosis, especially when people believe psychosis and psychopathy are the same conditions despite that the two are very different. It is wrong to stigmatize a person with psychosis in any way for many reasons. It is worse to stigmatize a mentally ill person with psychosis, accusing them of being violent or psychopathic. Psychosis is a condition common in people with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder, among other mental illnesses.
In the past few weeks, three people with mental illness appeared in the media's pictures of violence, which is no surprise given that the media and mental illness have a long history together. Ultimately, the media defines what mental illness looks like in the public's mind. If one were to gauge by the past few weeks, it would seem that mental illness and violence go hand in hand. But does it?
Since I started writing this blog over a year ago, I’ve noticed that I get more and more questions regarding my plans on how to end mental health stigma in my life (What Is Stigma?). Of course, I am honored to receive these questions, but I do not by any means consider myself an expert on the matter. But, here it goes anyway. You can be the judge as to whether I am an expert or not.