3 Things the General Public Should Know About Mental Health

“Did you know humans only use 10% of their brain's capacity?”



While it may be the heart of countless books and movies, the 10% myth is nothing more than a popular urban legend - a misconception that continues to circulate in the conversations of wannabe “brain experts” trying to impress a date or colleague. It is just one of the many examples of where we (the general, often misinformed and ignorant, public) are grossly wrong about how the human brain works.  

Our lack of knowledge becomes even more apparent when the topic of mental health is brought up. We tend to label mental illness as a mere “chemical imbalance” that can be solved with a bottle of prescriptions pills. We like to look at individuals struggling with addiction simply as “weak-minded” and selfish. In one fell swoop, we oversimplify the causes/cures for mental illness, and then blame individuals when our band-aid solutions stop working. We sometimes look at mental illness as a “frame of mind” that someone can just snap out if they only began to “think rationally.” Most importantly, we often forget to approach mentally ill individuals with compassion and empathy. By doing all of these things, we only further contribute to the stigmatization of mental illness.

You would think that with all the misunderstandings surrounding mental health, that mental illness would be fairly uncommon. Wrong again! 50% of the population will have met criteria for at least one mental illness by the end of their life. You and I both have a 1 in 2 chance of developing a mental illness at some point in our lives. Clearly there is a discrepancy between our views on mental health, and the actual prevalence of mental illness. Image result for mental health gif

Upon entering my college psychology classes, I was alarmed to find out  how many misconceptions I was holding onto surrounding mental health. As I continued in my courses, I reveled in my newfound enlightenment on the topic. However, I don’t want this knowledge to stop with me or my peers in the psychology department. I want the general public to have a deeper understanding of mental health. I believe this is the first step to solving the mental health crisis our nation is battling right now. That is why I met with Dr. Steve Ilardi, a practicing clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Kansas, to inquire what he thought were the most important concepts for the general public to grasp.

The following three ideas are what he came up with.

1. The All or Nothing Misconception

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The “all or nothing” misconception is the idea that you have to be completely healthy or completely mentally ill. It’s the idea that you are this way for your entire life. Considering we don’t view physical health through this lense, the “all or nothing” way of thinking is scientifically unwarranted. As stated before, mental illness is really common, and a lot of people experience it at some point. When someone gets the common cold, they don’t think, “That’s it - I am damaged goods. I will never be who I once was.” However, this is often what people first think when diagnosed with a mental illness. Certain life circumstances can cause a person that went 45 years without any mental health issues to become clinically depressed, but that doesn’t mean depression now has to define who they are - just like a cold wouldn’t define them for the rest of their life either.

2.The Medication Delusion

The point is plain and simple: prescription drugs for mental illnesses are not as good as people have been led to believe. Prescription drugs are heavily marketed despite majority of studies finding its long-term effectiveness to be no better than a sugar (or placebo) pill.

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In the last few decades, there has been a 400% increase in antidepressants prescribed, yet depression rates continue to skyrocket. In fact, a 2016 study released by the World Health Organization found depression to be the leading cause of disability in the world. Over 300 million people are suffering from it daily. To make matters worse, these drugs have a long list of side effects and are highly, highly addictive.

Now, this doesn’t mean prescription medication can’t provide great relief for those who take it. There are tons of people who take medication that has helped them in their recovery from mental illness; however, these drugs should not be looked at as a permanent solution, and we should be aware of some of their dangerous costs.

By the way, if you didn’t know, prescription drugs are really expensive - and drug companies spend two times as much advertising their medication as they do on research and development.

3. The Saving Grace

On a lighter note, there is great hope when it comes to overcoming mental illness. There are several forms of research based psychotherapy that do as well as the meds in the short term, and exceed the meds in  the long-term. The problem is this is a well kept secret in the mental health community. Why is that? There is no big marketing for it because it doesn’t make money like prescription pills. Hopefully, with more knowledge on mental health, this form of therapy can become the leading one.

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The human brain is a unfathomably complex organ, and psychology is a relatively young and underdeveloped science, but it is still important that people have a basic understanding of how it works. I want this article and other ones like it to be the stepping stone for a general public to become more aware of what lies behind their forehead.