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18 Myths About Mental Illness People Believed Before They Were Diagnosed

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Often people get their first official “Intro to Mental Illness” after they — or a close loved one — receive a diagnosis. Until then, our idea of who’s “mentally ill” is often shaped by media portrayals, misconceptions and misinformation. Even after a diagnosis, it may take someone years to feel comfortable in this new label’s skin, trying to figure out who they are and who they can be with a diagnosis.

But, people learn. And many learn if they find the right treatment plan and support, they can live full and successful lives despite their previous misconceptions. And if we spread this information now, it could help someone in the future know they too can find themselves after a diagnosis.

To find out what misconceptions people had about mental illnesses before they were diagnosed, we asked the International Bipolar Foundation’s community — as part of their “Say It Forward” campaign — to tell us one myth they previously believed.

Here’s what they had to say:

Myth #1: I thought I would never be able to have a normal relationship with anyone outside my family.” — Yumkhaibam R.

While it’s true mental illnesses can affect your relationship with others, living with a mental illness doesn’t doom you to dysfunctional relationships. With communication and understanding, living with a mental illness doesn’t make you any less likely to have beautiful, “normal” relationships.

Myth #2: “You could never feel well again.” — Jennifer M.

While many illnesses like bipolar disorder don’t have a clear cut “cure,” once you find the right treatment plan, it is 100 percent possible to feel “well.” “Well” might not last forever, but it can come.

Myth #3: “People with a mental illness could not function in day to day living with ‘normal’ people.”— Nyssa H.

False. People with mental illness are all around us. Nyssa added, “I was so wrong so. so wrong. We can and we thrive and we live.”

Myth #4: “[I thought] it wasn’t real unless it was an extreme case.” —  Louisa P.

Mental illnesses exists on a spectrum. Just because you are “higher functioning” doesn’t mean your illness isn’t real.

Myth #5: I didn’t realize how much of my life is affected by my mental illness. Relationships, friendships, family.” — Tiffany L.

It’s true — because some symptoms of mental illnesses affect your behavior, it can affect your loved ones. That’s one of the reasons why communicating to your friends and family about what you need when your behavior is affected is so important.

Myth #6: I believed once I was an adult I would mature and grow out of my illness, that my problems were just a ‘teenager phase’ that everyone goes through.” — Mary C.

Mental illnesses are not a phase or something you can just “grow out of.” Although they can be managed, they often have to be managed for life.

Myth #7: “I didn’t know it was so common.” — Francesca F.

If you live with a mental illness you are not alone. One out of five adults in the United States live with a mental illness, and about 5.7 million live with bipolar disorder. There is strength in these numbers.

Myth #8: “[I thought] people with mental health problems just want attention and special treatment.” — Robin S.


Myth #9: “[I thought] I was unfit to become a mom, and it was unfair to my children if I thought about having a family!” — Lisa M.

You can be a great parent and live with a mental illness. Lisa continued, “Four kids later, yes it’s hard but I’m a good mom! And hey, no one said motherhood was easy.”

Myth #10: “I thought I was weak.” — Josey M.

Having a mental illness does not make you weak. In fact, facing a mental illness head on makes you brave.

Myth #11: I was told there was nothing wrong with me, I just didn’t have enough faith.” — Jenni H.

Living with a mental illness does not correlate with how much faith you have. Mental illnesses do not discriminate.

Myth #12:Taking medication was a sign of defeat.” — Tracy S.

Taking medication is sometimes a necessary treatment tool — it has nothing to do with whether the person is “strong” or “weak.”

Myth #13: “I believed I had to hide it, it was a failure on my part.” — Meghan S.

Developing a mental illness is not your fault. It’s not a failure. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Myth #14: “[I thought] depression just meant you were sad all the time.” — Jennifer A.

Depression can be a lot of things, and often only part of it is persistent sadness. But it’s not the kind of sadness that automatically goes away when you do something you love. Other symptoms include: fatigue, loss of interest in activities you used to love, insomnia, irritability and changes in appetite.

Myth #15: “I thought my since I was outgoing and a happy, bubbly personality I couldn’t have a mental illness.” — Mandi N.

A mental illness is not a temperament. You can be naturally optimistic and still live with a mental illness.

Myth #16: “I believed people with mental illness could get better just by sheer force of will.” — Laura L.

Although a willingness to get better certainly can’t hurt, you won’t control a mental illness by will and will alone. Effort will only get you as far as the coping methods you learn and treatment options you go for.

Myth #17: “I would have to face it alone.” – Nick T.

When you live with a mental illness, you’re never alone. You’re part of a strong community. If you feel like you need more support in your community, you can click here.

Myth #18: “I believed I would never be able to go after my dreams. I would have to live halfway to them. Now I see I can do whatever I want to do.” — Jen N.

What he said…

To learn more about the International Bipolar Disorder’s “Say It Forward” campaign, click here.

Originally published: October 5, 2016
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