The Most Common Misconceptions about Mental Health

 

Unfortunately, the media and pop culture have painted a picture of mental health issues that is incorrect, leaving the public uninformed. As a double major in education in psychology and a future school counselor, I feel a responsibility to share with you a more accurate portrait of some of the most popular mental health concerns today.

First, depression. Most people think that depression is a synonym for extreme sadness. In reality, people with depression are not always sad. Those with depression have lost an ability to feel. Depression is a sense of numbness, hence, an inability to enjoy things that one once enjoyed. Being numb can sometimes be more frustrating than feeling sad. Feeling numb can make one forget what it feels like to be alive. It is easier to trigger sadness than it is to trigger happiness. Happiness happens in the moment. To illustrate, try remembering one of your happiest memories. For me, it was the 90’s. My cousin and I use to play all day during the summer, go in the pool, and watch cartoons. My grandmother would make us hamburgers and hotdogs and we would say we were at the best summer camp there ever was, “camp Mima.” My mom would take us to get ice cream at Carvel and we would take our dogs with us, Philly and Sammy. I’m blessed to say that I had an incredible childhood full of love and laughter. I look back and I feel a mix of emotions: joy and nostalgia. Of course, my situation may be different because the person I shared all of these memories with has passed on. The feelings of nostalgia are amplified and can feel like sadness. How quick, though, did a happy memory become somewhat cumbersome. It is difficult to re-create a happy memory. Sadness, however, is easy to recreate. A sad memory can instantly bring us to tears, which is why people cry during movies. This is where we get the idea that depressed people are “sad.” The bottom line is that when one is depressed, sadness is the easier emotion to recreate, hence, taking them out of their “numb” feeling. Depressed persons are more likely to pick a sad movie because they crave emotion. The lack of serotonin in the system does not allow for proper functioning and regulating of emotions. So, often times, medication is prescribed.

This is different from temporary depression, such as grief. When one is grieving, the emptiness and hollowness in your being is a reaction to the loss you have experienced. You may experience this numb feeling as a defense mechanism to your sadness. Your body craves a break from the crying. While you may have a decreased appetite, your body will eventually realize you are starving, so this feeling of numbness gives you a “break” from complete sadness, so that you will muster up the ability to get out of bed or eat a meal. But, this does not imply that you have a chemical imbalance or a lack of serotonin in your system. If such symptoms persist past a certain point, according to the DSM, then it would be appropriate to seek medical attention.

In order to show respect for people who battle with depression, please don’t say “I’m so depressed” just because you lost your bracelet. You are spreading ignorance and you look like a fool. 

As for anxiety, I can speak from personal experience. I have generalized anxiety disorder. It is a fairly genetic condition. It can also be brought on by traumatic experiences that are re-lived through exposure to certain stimuli. I was first diagnosed with anxiety in 2012 when I almost got into a car accident due to having to pull over and throw up due to anxiety in traffic. Just the other day, I was crossing the street in downtown Miami to find my knees shaking at the crosswalk. Movie theaters make my heart race (generally, dark and loud places make my heart race). On one occasion, crossing the street in miracle mile, I could feel my stomach doing backflips and I nearly went blind for a few seconds. Generalized Anxiety Disorder is not a “feeling.” It is a condition. My body produces excess adrenaline, causing fight or flight responses during something as minimal as crossing the street or watching a movie at the theaters. Without aide from medication, I typically want to hide out from the world, in fear that anxiety will strike. For this reason, people who do not handle their anxiety typically develop agoraphobia, a fear of leaving their homes.

I mean, just imagine for a moment, that you experience disabling anxiety when you cross the street. Agoraphobic people feel that if they leave their homes, a panic attack is waiting around the corner.

Everyone feels anxious. People with generalized anxiety disorder, however, feel anxious in day to day living. Typical pre-presentation jitters could cause vomiting and temporary blindness or deafness. Typical to people with depression, lack of serotonin, along with excess of adrenaline, play a role.

But, why do we say that anxiety and depression go hand and hand? Well, people with anxiety may fall into depression, not because they have no interest in activities, but because they want to participate, but live in fear. Similarly, people with physical conditions, like someone who was in a horrific accident, could suffer from depression if they are physically unable to do activities they once enjoyed. I have never suffered from depression. That is not something I have ever had to struggle with. But, I do suffer with disabling anxiety. I’m not broken. I’m just imperfect, just like you.

Please don’t say:

  • You’re too young to have anxiety 
  • What could you possible be anxious about?
  • Medication is really not very good for you.
  • Why do you have anxiety?

Because the answer is:

  • Anxiety has no age (Additionally, I know a lot of people much older than me who have less responsibilities than I do)
  • I have a genetic predisposition to anxiety
  • If I didn’t take medication, I would end up having to pull over in traffic to throw up, I would be unable to cross streets, I would have insomnia, and be at risk of becoming agoraphobic
  • Anxiety is just as much a part of me as my height, my hair color, and my eye color. I’m not “going through something.” I have a neurological condition
  • I’m not crazy. I’m in my right mind. I am very emotionally healthy. But, the excess adrenaline clouds my judgement and causes racing thoughts (ex: call someone. they don’t answer. they must have gotten in a terrible accident)
  • I don’t have anxiety because “something happened to me.” Just like some people are born with diabetes or blind, I was born with anxiety. Just because you cannot see it or touch it doesn’t mean it isn’t real. 

 

OCD

Lots of people think that OCD means obsessively neat. Obsessive compulsive disorder is a need to perform certain rituals in order to ease anxiety. For some people, this does involve having things in a certain place, organizing, or excessively washing one’s hands. For some, the “rituals” include having things in a certain place, asymmetrical balance, washing hands a certain amount of times, etc. These rituals can differ from person to person. The definition of obsessive compulsive disorder is not “fear of germs” or “super neat.” Samantha Pena shares her story.

In order to show respect for people with OCD:

  • do not self diagnose yourself with OCD
  • do not use OCD as an adjective for neat or orderly
  • do not use OCD as an adjective for clean

 

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