The most common misconceptions about mental health

June 23, 2023

Mental illness affects more people than is widely known. According to studies, the numbers are rising every year, with fewer than half of those affected receiving the care they need. We shed light on the myths and stigma surrounding the issue.

Likeminded Editorial Team

Table of Content

The most important facts in a nutshell:

  • Mental illness is not a sign of weakness
  • Affected persons are often able to work
  • Stress, overwork and mental illness can be prevented
  • Faster improvement can be achieved with help
  • Depression and other mental illnesses run their course individually
  • Mental well-being affects everyone
  • There are many options for getting help

You may have heard it before: people with mental illnesses are weak or to blame for feeling bad about themselves. Myths and misconceptions about illnesses such as depression and anxiety disorders persist, although they are often not based on facts.

One third of the German population suffers from mental illness in the course of a year – the number of unreported cases, especially in the spectrum of clinically less significant complaints, is probably much higher. Nevertheless, the topic remains widely taboo. In the workplace and in private, open communication and prevention have proven to be beneficial.

This is because more people are affected than is widely known. According to studies, the numbers are increasing every year, with less than half of those affected receiving the care they need. But when is one even mentally healthy? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which a person is able to realize their capabilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to his or her community. “Misinformation and myths surrounding mental health are not only dangerous, they can also make it even more difficult for sufferers to cope with their condition. We took a look at some of the most common myths and uncover them.

Common misconceptions about mental health

1. Mental illness is a sign of weakness

Just like physical illness, anyone can be affected by mental illness. Genetic predispositions, stress, life circumstances, and social conditions are critical factors. Studies show that the majority of absences from work are due to mental rather than physical illness. The myth that mental illness is a sign of weakness keeps many from talking openly about their condition. Therapeutic care can not only provide sufferers with coping mechanisms but can also help them gain more composure in everyday life and thus prevent mental illness.

2. Affected persons are not able to work

Different mental illnesses can be more or less severe and affect people in different ways. Often a broken arm is met with more understanding than a diagnosis of burnout or depression. Yet those affected can be handicapped in both cases without having to give up their work. According to the UN Convention, work is a right of all people and, provided it does not have a negative impact on the person involved, can have a positive effect on life. Open communication and more flexibility have proven helpful in dealing with mental illness in the workplace. The German Society for Behavioral Therapy also finds positive effects on mental health when sufferers have a job. More self-confidence, more structure in everyday life, and a sense of purpose are just some of the benefits.

 3. Mental illnesses cannot be prevented

Mental illnesses can affect anyone and occur due to a variety of influences and circumstances. However, certain illnesses, such as burnout, can be actively prevented if people who have very stressful jobs learn skills that help them to better manage their resources and remain calm despite stress. For companies in particular, the prevention of mental illness can prove positive by increasing productivity in the long term and reducing absenteeism due to mental illness.

4. Mental illness does not affect me

The past few years in particular have shown how occupational, social, and political circumstances can affect the mental health of the world’s population. Germany has seen a 17% increase in moderate to severe mental illness over the past two years. The rate of general strain and stress increase is likely to be much higher. Especially if mental illnesses or reduced mental well-being are not recognized and, if necessary, treated, they can worsen over time and, in the worst case, lead to increased alcohol consumption or substance abuse. That’s why it’s important to recognize them, talk about them, and address them in a targeted way.

5. Mental illnesses are not curable

Depending on the type of illness, different treatments such as behavioral therapy, medication, group therapy, or even mindfulness exercises can help to better cope with the current stress and help sufferers through the difficult phase by providing them with the right tools.

Guide: Facing mental issues at work

Myths about depression

1. People with depression can help themselves

The myth that people with depression can help themselves persists. Yet the right support, in the form of therapy or counseling, can help sufferers cope better with their condition, putting them on the road to recovery more quickly. Counseling and therapy can also help prevent mental illness. Toxic optimism, which suggests that sufferers can help themselves by thinking more positively, not only negates the severity of the illness but also assumes that mental illness is to some extent self-induced.

2. Depression disappears automatically

The idea that depression goes away with time and that treatment is therefore not necessary stems from the notion that mental illness is a sign of weakness. If depression is left untreated, it can have serious consequences for sufferers, who not infrequently isolate themselves socially, resort to substances, and thus further intensify the illness.

3. Only women suffer from depression

Gender stereotypes have reinforced the notion that men are not affected by depression. While women are statistically more likely to suffer from the condition, the stigma around mental health in men leads this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is possible that the number of unreported cases is much higher and that the hurdle for men in particular to seek professional help is greater.

4. Depressed people cry a lot

Not everyone who suffers from depression shows their illness openly, and not all sufferers cry. Instead of crying and being sad all the time, many sufferers report feeling empty or numb their sadness with a sense of emptiness, general disinterest, and helplessness. 

What about our well-being?

According to the WHO, around 44.3 million people in the European region suffer from depression and around 12% of the total population suffered from a mental disorder in 2015. In Germany, around 17.8 million people suffer from a mental illness each year – 15.4% of them from anxiety disorders. As reported by the Federal Statistical Office, 9206 people died by suicide in the previous year, 75% of them were men – far more than by traffic accidents (3373). According to the DGPPN, between 50 and 90% of suicides can be attributed to mental illness.

Prejudice and stigmatization of mental illnesses continue to make it difficult to educate people about the subject and offer those affected the help they need. A confidant, professional help, telephone counseling or self-help groups can serve as a first point of contact. In severe cases, it is advisable to consult a doctor – either by referral from the family doctor or via the Weisse Liste.

Mental distress and mental illness are common and can be treated well – to full recovery. Mental well-being affects everyone because we all feel bad at one time or another, we all experience grief and loss, and we do not always have the capacity to deal adequately with these incisions. This makes it all the more important to learn such skills, to seek help, and to give top priority to maintaining both mental and physical health.

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