Depression and Mental Health | Stereotyping, Denial, Myths & More

There is hope amidst mental health and depression. Many mental health problems such as OCD & Depression are Surmountable. The ‘mysteries’ of mental health such as OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and the despair of Depression.

The perilous and mystifying wonders that lie beyond the shores and the barrenness of a sun-bleached sea-shore, yet the beauty that abounds from the mysterious depths of the ocean and the tranquility of a quiescent beach. OCD is mysterious yet surmountable. Depression is barren yet can lay foundations for a happier tomorrow.

Failure is not falling down, it is staying down.

Stereotyping Mental Health Problems

Stereotyping is a large and relevant topic surrounding mental health. To stereotype is to prejudge someone as belonging to a certain type (Ref….to be added…..). A common and very real fear of many people seeking help is being prejudged or finding themselves stereotyped and having concerns about stigmatisation. To be concerned about being put in a ‘pigeon-hole’, being labelled, being disregarded, being misunderstood, ashamed, embarrassed or even criticised can be tremendous hurdles people may face when coming to terms with a mental health problem and even on an ongoing basis. The thought of being stereotyped from most peoples’ point of view is not a pleasant experience, especially if one comprehends such thoughts as negative in a variety of contexts and if it happens to lead to negative feelings and/or behaviours. Perhaps some people (other people that we know) fear the unknown and a quick response to even initial interaction with a person with a mental illness or disorder, may be to be put up a barrier of protection for themselves. I have found that as the majority of people I have known do not actually enjoy talking about mental health, maybe part of it is the unknown. Just imagine facing a new situation that is not particularly well-known to yourself. I imagine for example, if I were to visit a prison cell, I too might be quick to label, stereotype, and/or not acknowledge or consider the reasons what may have lead the particular person/people to be in their own situation. The point is not right or wrong (laws etc.), good or bad, it is prejudging ALL people who are mentally ill, those who have defied or broken the law, those of different religions, cultures and so-on, all to be the same .

Some people with a mental health problem are indeed dangerous, but only a small percentage though. Believing that people with a mental illness are dangerous is very detrimental to how society copes and relates to mentally ill people. Statistics will tell us for example that a person with schizophrenia is around 2000 times more likely to harm him/herself that somebody else. We often hear of isolated incidents that seem to feed the concept of stereotyping and for the high majority of people suffering a mental health disorder or illness, this stigmatised thinking tends to regard them and all others as being similar, the same, or that they should be avoided etc. when in actual fact most are not dangerous. Many people with a mental illness or disorder actually fear OTHERS and are no more likely to hurt anyone else than anybody in the general population. For many people receiving a diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, it can seem like being branded with a label attached to themselves. A fear for such people is when others recognise this ‘label’ they may be quick to assume wrong assumptions such as s/he is dangerous. Stigmatisation is an enormous hurdle for people with a mental health problem. Much like most people who are deaf, disabled or the like, the majority of people with a psychiatric disability do NOT necessarily want to be treated any differently to anyone in the general population.

Stigma and Discrimination

Common and very real fear of seeking help is stigmatisation. To be concerned about being put in a pigeon-hole, being labelled, being disregarded, being misunderstood, ashamed, embarrassed or even criticised can be tremendous hurdles that people may face. The thought of being stereotyped (and certainly from my experience) generally is not a pleasant experience especially if it leads to negative feelings and/or behaviours from others.

What is stereotyping and stigmatisation ? Stereotyping is to prejudice someone as belonging to a certain type (to typecast or put in a pigeon-hole) or a fixed IDEA which is often not true in reality. Stigmatisation relates to bad or often unfair FEELINGS that people in general have about a particular illness, way of behaving and so-forth.

Maybe some people (other people) fear the unknown and a quick response to even initial interaction with a person with a mental illness may be to put up a barrier of protection for themselves. I have personally found that a majority of people I have known do not like talking about mental health issues, and maybe as such, part of this could be the unknown. Imagine you were in a new situation where stigmatisation could initiate. For me, to imagine myself in a new situation that is not particularly well-known to myself, it could bring up issues of stigmatised thinking. For example, I imagine if I were to visit a prison cell, I might too be quick to label, stereotype and see things as ‘black or white’ with no shades of grey, and more-so actually discriminate, judge or condemn. So how would I feel if I happened to be in prison even whether I was innocent or not. The point is here not necessarily revolving around moral issues or the like, but HOW IT FEELS or would feel. How would it feel to be in the position or similar circumstances that others are in? Even if people have made mistakes or done some sort of ‘wrong’, there can be stigma attached.

It can seem like being branded in a derogated way for those receiving a diagnosis so a fear for such people is that when others recognise this ‘label’ they may be quick to assume wrong assumptions such as that he or she is dangerous. Stereotyping a person with a mental disorder or illness can greatly contribute to stigmatisation which is a problem we face on an ongoing basis.

Myths about Mental Health

Myths are generally still quite profound in the overall arena of mental health. Some mythical beliefs are completely untrue and many issues are misunderstood. Increasing an awareness of the truths and fallacies in mental health will help enable an improvement in general society’s perception of many mental health issues.

A classic myth that stands out in general society is the myth of possession of demons. Sadly, many people are still influenced by this very misleading myth that people with psychiatric problems (particularly psychotic illnesses) are ‘demon possessed’. Of course (for those who believe in spirits and the like), one is not immune to such spirits whether a person does or doesn’t have any clinical diagnosis.

I was personally saddened once to have witnessed well-meaning people trying to perform some sort of exorcism with the intent to release an evil spirit, when highly likely chances were (in this case), that there wasn’t even a spirit there in the first place. As a wise teacher of mine once said (who was also a minister) ” if we have concerns about such ‘spiritual’ issues, do not step outside our area of expertise, but seek a reputable experienced minister who has knowledge and experience in dealing with such spiritual issues”.

Another stand-out myth is that people with a mental illness are dangerous. Truth is that very few are dangerous. Many people with an illness can be quite anxious and fearful of others. Some are very passive, contrary to any belief of people with a mental illness being dangerous, violent or ‘bad’. Yes, some are dangerous and there are isolated incidents that occur (such as homicide), where there are strong indications of a person being quite deranged. However, generally in mental health, most are no danger to others, no more than the general population. An example of how false this generally is, is that people with schizophrenia are approximately 2000 times more likely to harm themselves than another person. Most people with a mental disorder or illness are not dangerous. Another myth is that people with a disorder or illness are not as intelligent as others. Many recorded historical figures would have been anything but ‘under-intelligent’.

To make a list clearer about those having a psychiatric problem, some common myths are listed below. These are NOT true:
* they are demon possessed
* they are dangerous
* they are not intelligent
* they can or will never change or get better
* they should be put away ( or locked-up )
* they should be put in hospital
* they are all just looking for attention and/or being full of self-pity
* they have attitude problems, that’s all
* they are mentally ill because of childhood trauma/problems
* they are born with a mental illness/disorder
* they have an intellectual disability and/or they have brain damage
* they will have to take medication for their entire lives
* their families are to blame for their mental illness/disorder
* mental illness is consistently the same across all cultures.

Myth 1 : People with a mental illness are demon-possessed.

Reality: Some may be, but most are not. An individual’s perception of demons may influence their concept of “demon-possession”. However, if the majority of people believe in good or evil, many people may interpret a person with a mental illness or disorder as someone who is possessed or evil. A psychiatric diagnosis does NOT necessarily indicate any association with demonic possession or evilness. Yet, a small percentage of people with a diagnosed disorder or illness may be ‘evil’ (talking by standards of social norms), yet this also applies to the general population.

The point is, is that some people may be perceived to be possessed by a demon but generally speaking, a mental health disorder or illness does NOT constitute evilness at all. This is a sensitive matter and there may be strong debate about this but the point is that if people with a mental health disorder or illness are demon-possessed, then they would probably be regarded as dangerous, right? Well, most people with a mental disorder or illness are no more dangerous than anyone else (please refer to ‘myth 2′ for more about this).

Myth 2 : People with a mental illness or psychiatric problem are dangerous.

Reality: Most people with a psychiatric problem or diagnosis are no more dangerous than anyone else in the general population. Even people with severe mental illnesses usually are not dangerous (Ref A.A.I. p.11). Unfortunately, the media gets hold of isolated incidents where a person with a mental health disorder or illness does something terrible and as a result basically the whole world may know about it. Certainly tragic incidences happen involving those who may be regarded as mentally disturbed or deranged. However, we tend to exaggerate the likelihood of people with a mental illness or disorder to perform some terrible act and we tend not to acknowledge or to be aware of the amount of people in general society with a psychiatric problem who do not and probably will not ever engage in some type of horrific violation such as violence or homicide.

To deny facts or as some may say “to put one’s head in the sand” may pose particular dangers in itself. Here, we may initially think about the misfortunes of stigmatization and the negative effects it can have on those with a psychiatric diagnosis in thinking that they are all dangerous and should be avoided, and about the problems that this may lead to for those who are unwell in terms of things such as employment, but there is another angle to it too. Let’s say for example that one (a ‘mentally-well’ person) was to deny that another person (someone with a diagnosed disorder/illness) may be dangerous when there might be signs of imminent danger or possible danger at any given stage. Let’s assume that the person who may be displaying signs of becoming dangerous to others (or even him/herself) has any given mental disorder. So, here we have a situation of someone displaying signs of danger to others or him/herself and who also has a mental disorder, and somebody else who is in denial that this first person could possibly cause danger. It may be cause for alarm. Some are dangerous yes, but the high majority of people with a diagnosed psychiatric disorder or illness pose no more threat than the average citizen or resident. However, as not to put our heads in the sand, we need to acknowledge that within a very limited amount of mental disorders or illnesses (“illnesses” may be the more appropriate term/word here) there are higher risks of danger to others or to the sufferer of a particular disorder/illness. It should be noted that people with schizophrenia are more likely than others to commit violent crime (ref….. myers. p475……). Now, this states “more likely” NOT “will!. It does NOT imply that most will nor that they should be feared. I have been in the company of many people with schizophrenia and have not been alarmed by any of them in relation to fears of harm or abuse of any sort. Assuming that people with a mental illness are usually dangerous is a false perception that is beneath some of the most damaging stereotypes (Ref A.A.I. p.11). Statistical facts can prove that at least 9 in every 10 people with a disorder/illness are NOT dangerous (Ref Myers p.475). On top of this, patients who are discharged from mental health hospitals are no more likely to become violent than anyone else in the general community IF they stay away from drugs and alcohol (Ref E.P. p.475).

The prevalence of harmful incidences of those with a psychiatric disorder/illness is hardly any more than that of others, but other concerns are applicable for how people with a mental illness/disorder may behave, such as criminal activity.

Myth 3: They should be put in hospital.

Reality: Only under particular circumstances should someone with a mental disorder or illness be put in a psychiatric hospital. Mental health hospitals have their purpose. I as the author of this site have personally been admitted to various mental health hospitals and understand the dynamics of their function and purpose. People should not be put in a mental health hospital unless it is absolutely necessary. Ask any psychiatrist and they will back this up.

Hospitals have their purpose and they are not designed, intended or indeed used just to put all sick people away. Putting people in there just because of a diagnosed disorder or illness is detrimental to the person. There are though situations and times when a hospital is the best, most appropriate and/or safest option for those with psychiatric problems but putting everybody in there with a mental health problem would generally be self-defeating, inhumane and would indeed stunt the overall recovery or management for the individual and would deprive the person of opportunities to learn how to manage their disorder or illness while living in the general community.

Some people may think or say that the general community would be better served or safer if everybody with a mental disorder or illness was put in hospital or some type of institution in relation to fears such as the safety of the general community. They may perceive all people with a psychiatric problem to be a risk or hazard because we don’t always know who might do something awful, terrible or hurt other people. The same (as others may say) could be said of anyone among the general community. But the first person here may argue that those with a psychiatric disorder or illness are more likely to cause harm to others because of their disorder or illness. This is a falicy as generally speaking most people with a psychiatric disability or problem are no more likely to cause harm to others than anyone else.

Myth 4: People with a psychiatric problem are only looking for attention

Reality: Attention-seeking may be a part of particular individual behaviours of certain types of psychiatric problems however, many people with a psychiatric diagnosis do not seek attention to a large degree. This is a debatable topic and part of this can include an inbuilt desire of human-beings to be socially accepted and have a sense of love and belonging. Perhaps a part to be considered is what is of “normal” needs of the average person including social acceptance and a desire of recognition to that of exaggerated demeanours which may be interpreted as attention seeking.

Facing Denial

Denial; the act of negating. Facing the very thought of any mental health issue or diagnosis can be very daunting. Denial can be a very difficult stage as if we are in denial it is hard to see we are in denial or know we are in denial because we are in denial itself. Even when we come to recognise that ‘something’ is wrong, it can still be so difficult to come to terms with. Denial is a tough thing to work through. Whether it is self-denial, or our loved-ones and friends and certainly not excluding work colleagues and so-forth (who may be in denial), it is a barrier to be broken down and in time though we will become more able to face the realities of our individual circumstances and start working through denial.

Personally, I found that through originally receiving a diagnosis many years ago, I was finally able to get to a point of acknowledging the problem which started to gradually bring about some changes in terms of facing the disorder. Once we can recognise that our life might not seem to be quite right or seem ‘normal’ we can start to acknowledge it. People for many years (as I did) may try to avoid the reality that something seems wrong. We may try to ignore the signs or symptoms for endless reasons, and this is only completely normal or usual. There comes a disbelief, and often comes a stage of knowing something is wrong, but still not believing it though. Denial is not easy to face and it can wax-and-wane through different stages right through to a full acceptance of a diagnosed disorder or illness. Through acknowledging and accepting any issue, it is a significant step in our long-term process of recovery or learning to live adaptively with reduced symptoms and better coping mechanisms.

Many disorders wax-and-wane in themselves and this may have effects in various ways including accepting or denying problems. Denial therefore, may be a battle that re-visits us at times, or in other words, may seem to chop-and-change as we move from denial through the stages to acknowledgement and acceptance. For example, we may start to feel as though we are starting to accept a ‘problem’, only to find ourselves slipping back or thinking “oh, this just can’t be, not me”.

If something seems wrong, it can be so helpful even to start to talk to one person and acknowledging the problem may start to help things just to make a little bit of initial sense. Maybe a family member or spouse may listen to you, if not , there are certainly others around who you could try such as a General Practitioner. G.P.s do play a major role in the community in relation to working directly with people who are facing and dealing with mental health problems.

Problems of course do not just disappear without a lot of work, and the early stages of denial involves acknowledgement of issues that may be causing distress and other feelings or problems. It is important to point out that naturally no two people will react the same to any given circumstance because we are so unique in ourselves, each and every one of us. So we will all face issues in life differently because none of us are exactly the same and we all interpret things in our own unique way unlike anybody else. It is unrealistic to expect that any person can totally understand exactly what another person is really experiencing (including if we are diagnosed with the same disorder) because we are all so different. Something that is not the most helpful thing to say is ” I know exactly how you feel”…. do we really? Perhaps we might have an idea, but not know exactly. Therefore, for people experiencing mental health concerns/disorders there are many challenges and one can be to accept that nobody will understand exactly how you feel because they are not you. Yet there ARE many people (professional and non-professional) who want to understand and CAN certainly help us through methods such as active listening and validation. It is NOT shameful to have a mental disorder or illness. Unfortunately many myths still ‘haunt’ the perception of mental health by the general public and this may be another troublesome barrier for many people who are trying to come to terms with mental health problems. However, early on, maybe we need to face reality in that if something seems ‘wrong’ there may well be! Get help! Talk to somebody.

How do we get from the absolute bottom of life’s valleys, even just to start to walk along a plateau let alone climb a mountain? This may come in the form of several or many elements and ‘tools’ that we can use, and resources that we can access in order to gradually be ready to take that first step up the mountain. As we are all so incredibly different, we interpret things differently, we re-act differently and we cope differently and so-forth, we need to start to identify each little ‘tool’ that we can use to fight the battle of mental health. In time we learn how to use these tools, when to change tools and how to adapt to different circumstances in life. All-in-all though, in the early stages such as coming to terms with a mental health issue, we do need to talk to somebody. It was (for myself anyway) like reaching a type of catharsis or emotional release. We are going to have varying types of thoughts and feelings which can include guilt and many others. But, if we start to vent our feelings through emotional release, we will probably start to be able to deal better with the problems. This ‘sort of ‘ reminds me of complicated grief (which is not dealing with grieving issues and not handling it well emotionally) versus uncomplicated grief in where there is appropriate emotional relief and the like. Perhaps accepting a mental health diagnosis may be likened to a grieving process, and I certainly can identify areas of loss in my life including my own dignity, my own self-concept and many other areas. Talking to people, or even just one person to start with can be so valuable. However, there is also the likelihood that a family member or someone close to you simply will not accept a diagnosis of a person’s disorder or illness too. Certain people such as family members in my life, used denial as a defence mechanism. People might think “oh yes, I have had that too” or “I know exactly what that is like, but you need to snap out of it”, and so-on. This can be frustrating for the person with a disorder or illness because they need or want these people to accept. We shouldn’t expect them (others) to accept something like a mental health problem or diagnosis in just a day, or a week or a month. It could take many many months. What can we do in the meantime? Maybe you could talk to somebody else such as a General Practitioner who could prove to be a wonderful anchor point for you and certainly someone who will listen if nobody else does. Find someone to talk to! They do not necessarily need to understand, but keep trying and you WILL find someone who will ACCEPT you. And in time, their understanding will probably deepen too. Denial- the act of negating. If people deny your particular mental health issue, then maybe we should navigate to find a listening ear. There will always be one somewhere. And in time, through education and further awareness of any problems, people may very well start to step outside of denial themselves. We need special people such as loved family members, so if they deny the problems, maybe we could think that we may too if we were in their situation. Some people may never accept, others will, others will need more time. If certain people appear to react abruptly even if there is anger attached, it might be a good thing because they may be getting in touch their thoughts and feelings through emotional release (preferably not abuse of course) which can be an important stage in the process of working through denial. Get it out somehow. Maybe write down your thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper which is like an unconditional friend (it will take anything you write on it), talk to a telephone counsellor, punch a boxing bag, have a good cry, whatever, but get your frustrations out whether it be self-denial or denial coming from others or both. We learn to adapt to stages and changes in life. It may not be easy at all but perhaps sometimes we also need to step outside of our comfort zone, tread uncertain waters, but one set of footprints is maybe what we need sometimes too. There is help, somewhere, somebody WILL listen. Coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis or problem can be quite daunting for a family unit and relationships within the family structure can be subdued to a lot of stress, yet I have heard many times from people with a clinically diagnosed disorder or illness not only to express some relief to a point of actually finally getting professional help through a doctor or other qualified professional, but significant others in their lives can be somewhat clearer that there really has been a problem. Perhaps it may seem a bit odd to find any relief in being diagnosed by a suitable and competent professional. In saying this, I know for myself and others I have known, there certainly has been some relief involved. Perhaps speaking for myself, I realised I questioned my thinking about myself as being some sort of ‘freak’, and I realised that my condition was in fact much more common than I had thought. It is generally not easy just to simply accept such things as coming to terms with mental health problems, however by starting to accept that problems exist and not sweeping it all under the carpet , we may be able to utilise our array of armoury in overcoming mental health problems and part of this can be utilising the expertise of doctors, researchers, therapists and the like in where their knowledge can be proven to be absolutely invaluable. Speaking from my own recovery, I am eternally grateful to my therapist/psychologist who helped me in so many ways. Other people CAN help, AND they can be very good at it! Denying mental health diagnosis: Any mental health issue would not be easy to accept. I wouldn’t imagine anybody (generally speaking) would want to have any diagnosed condition at all. Personally, for me, I went through many- many months (and literally many years) where facing the ‘idea’ of being clinically diagnosed with anything was just too hard to bare. I think this would have been quite normal. I was in denial. Through these stages (of denying that something could be wrong), it is very difficult for loved-one’s to know what is happening. Relationships can be tested to the extreme and put under almost unsustainable pressure, as they too may also be facing denial issues (among many others). What is denial? Basically, it is an act of negating. Denial is more-or-less a defence mechanism that seems to spring into action. It can also be an initial attempt at coping. Surely, most or all of us at some stage in our lives have experienced thoughts such as “it can’t happen……… not to me “. We may be aware that things don’t seem to be quite right, but I for one found it extremely difficult to finally start to partially accept that there were problems. Denial can obviously occur in many facets of life, and grief and loss is also so interwoven with denial issues. Grief and loss can come in many other forms other than losing a loved-one and the like, and psychological loss is generally referred to as one of the main categories of loss that we can experience. Psychological loss can include loss of self-esteem, status, ideals, hopes, control and independence and personally, I think any mental health diagnosis to some degree, will impact on any of these psychological elements. Changes in life such as marriage can involve some sort of loss, as does physical loss, social loss and others. I know for myself, when I was originally diagnosed, I felt a loss, no doubt. I wasn’t quite sure what it was, but maybe a loss of self-respect (among many other things). So, what happens when we face mental health issues (generally speaking)………. we use denial as an initial coping mechanism, or at least as an initial defence. We are all different, so we are all going to react and cope differently. It can be extremely tough and take a long time to work through. The good news is, we don’t have to stay in denial, and once we can start to even partially accept, we can start to take gradual steps forward. Others though, may accept reality more adaptively than the “average” person (including what I did myself), yet they could very well have loved-one’s who are in denial themselves. Just as self-denial is difficult, so too is other people (particularly our loved-one’s) in accepting and coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis. Just as we might think ourselves “no, not me “, others too may very well think “no, there is not a problem with him/her”. A defensive reaction could be denial in the form of saying “oh, it is only some minor passing phase, and s/he will snap out of it soon”, a classic case of denial. So, denial is an act of negating. What about if or when people who are facing mental health problems have actually realised that something is ‘wrong’ and they have moved beyond the point of totally denying that there really may be problems ? What might be some concerns for these people? What about for people who feel so vulnerable and those who may fear being labelled? Fear being labelled? Do you fear that if you are diagnosed (or somebody you know or love) with a mental disorder you might be labelled? Speaking from my own past experience, I know I certainly did, and this one reason which kept me in denial for a long period of time. To face the truth, it is not easy to take on board any diagnosis let alone the fear of being ‘branded’ or labelled. We might fear or worry about what others may think if we are diagnosed with something. This is completely normal. For some, it may bother them that some other people may think “oh, it’s all in your head”, and see a psychiatric diagnosis as nothing compared to a physical diagnosis such as diabetes or whatever. What many people may still lack awareness of here is that much of psychiatric problems IS a biological diagnosis. Some people may think “you’re just feeling sorry for yourself, it’s all in your head”. Well, often the truth is that yes, it is in your head but not from reasons such as attention-seeking, self-pity and the like, but biological functioning of the brain in your head. There is now so much medical evidence to prove this. Nevertheless, we also do need to be aware of the trap of falling into self-pity too though, but elements such as biological functioning are certainly recognised as having large bearings. Have you ever known anybody who appeared totally naive to mental health problems, until one day they found themselves or somebody they knew close to them struggling with with a disorder or being diagnosed? All of a sudden, there may appear to be a huge turn-around in their outlook to the reality of mental health. From a personal perspective, I used to be a bit like this and an example could be described as how I used to view particular groups of people in our community and how I see them now as I have opened my eyes and have been receptive to learning about some facts and theories of such groups of people. So, there will be some people who will not seem to change their mind about mental health problems and how they might see you (or another person), or what they might think. It would be worthwhile to yourself not to be too concerned with such judgements. We all have the right to our own opinions, and even though we can try to explain or even justify matters to a person who appears ‘judgemental’, at the end of the day, you can not literally change them and ultimately they are responsible for their own thoughts and judgements. Does or can it still hurt what people think? From my own experience and listening to others, yes it certainly can! It is not easy and it is a common occurrence to put on a false facade with certain people in fear of judgement, misunderstanding, criticism, labelling, rejection, discrimination, and a general fear that people might think “there’s nothing really wrong with you, except your attitude”, or something along these lines or indeed anything else that may be conjured. It is an unfortunate reality of living with a mental disorder such as clinical depression. It is not easy for many people to cope with such issues so a part of coping for certain individuals is to adopt a reasoning or thinking and accepting that that we ourselves are not responsible for others’ opinions, attitudes or behaviours towards us. Indeed it may still hurt, but on the other hand, it can be very reassuring to believe and know that there ARE understanding people and people who accept others for what they are regardless of any diagnosis who are willing to listen, support and not judge us.

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