5 Mental Health Myths That May Surprise You

6 min read
Viorel Kurnosov/Shutterstock

Source: Viorel Kurnosov/Shutterstock

Some mental health myths that have been around so long that many people just assume they are true without checking them out. Unfortunately, believing the myths can mean misunderstanding yourself and others, and mean missed opportunities for help and support.

Myth 1: Thinking happy thoughts will get rid of depression or sadness.

Although research finds that we actually can change some of our negative emotions by reframing thoughts and perceptions, learning how to do that takes practice, support, and time. Depression usually involves abnormal regulation of sleep/wake cycles, body temperature, blood pressure, neurotransmitters, and various endocrine functions. Willpower alone is usually not enough to “fix” all that, and believing that willpower is enough blames the person living depression or anxiety for their own condition.

Further, if we ourselves are suffering from depression or sadness and believe this myth, we are more likely to add self-blame for not being “strong” to our problems and less likely to reach out for help. Support groups, therapy, and psychopharmacotherapies are all available. (To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.)

Myth 2: Traumatic events always leave emotional scars.

While traumas like 9/11, COVID-19, or pregnancy loss deeply affect us, research finds that we are generally more resilient than we think. In fact, those most likely to experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression after a trauma are those who may have a genetic predisposition, live with chronic stress, or carry other life circumstances. First responders have demonstrated that resilience is an innate survival capacity that can emerge naturally after a trauma and help us focus on our daily life and gratitude. In fact, most of us eventually recover after a traumatic experience; only between 2 percent and 10 percent of people develop symptoms of PTSD.1 So, if you or someone you know is not emotionally recovering after trauma or loss, don’t write off extended or persistent symptoms as “normal.” While they may be, a trauma recovery specialist or support group can still help promote coping and emotional resilience.

Myth 3: Most people with emotional problems are just looking for attention.

Emotional problems are real: A current Gallup poll found that levels of lifetime and current depression are at an all-time high for Americans in 2023.2 And if acting anxious or depressed is the only way someone has of getting attention, that itself indicates a “real” emotional problem. Unfortunately, this myth has led many to assume that if someone is talking about suicide or self-harm, they are not really going to follow through. This is not statistically true. Think of the anxious or depressed behavior as a cry for help, and not a ploy for attention.

Myth 4: Stress can cause infertility.

I have written about this unfortunate myth before. Here’s the truth: While daily stress alone does not create infertility, infertility can certainly cause daily stress. In fact, even if physical or emotional stress does affect your hormonal cycles, according to lan Copperman, the director of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York, the disruption is time-limited, and your cycle is typically self-correcting unless there’s a pre-existing medical condition. If our reproductive systems were as vulnerable to stress as many believe, the human race would have disappeared long ago.3

Here are some more fertility stress myths:

  • Don’t believe anyone who tells you that adopting a baby will “relax you” about parenting and then you’ll spontaneously conceive. This stress-related idea is also not supported by empirical evidence.4
  • Don’t let anyone tell you that you are to blame for your fertility problems, and don’t be ashamed or blame yourself. Moving forward with family building, in any one of many ways, is the most effective way to stop dwelling on the past.

Myth 5: The stigma associated with psychotherapy is the main reason many avoid it.

Although a stigma still exists for some, there are many other things that keep some from reaching out for help.

  • For many, therapy seems too expensive—or they assume it is. If you are worried about cost, check with your workplace insurance provider or local mental-health social services agency for subsidized or free therapy.
  • For others, talking about feelings and fears seems unfamiliar and they worry that it would be uncomfortable. This might be so initially, but generally patients become much more comfortable expressing concerns and fears aloud with a therapist rather than continuing to think about those concerns and fears when they are alone and awake in the middle of the night.
  • Trust issues can be a barrier to therapy, particularly since the therapist is usually a stranger and the client is asked to share private and personal information. If this is your issue, remember that this will be your therapy and your journey, and you can “interview” therapists until you find one with whom you are comfortable. Ask questions about a therapist’s training, orientation, and credentials, and how you will both assess your progress. Only you can know if a therapist is right for you.
  • Some tell me that the idea of signing up for therapy feels like admitting failure. Very quickly, however, they learn that successful therapy helps them feel empowered and brave.
  • For those who feel like they are already on overload, the thought of adding support sessions to a busy day seems inconvenient at best and impossible at worst. Since COVID-19, however, teletherapy has grown and saves patients both commuting and waiting time. One survey found that 60 percent of us say we’d prefer a telephone call to a face-to-face session because we don’t have to take time off work or travel.5
  • Finally, many hesitate because they are confused about what type of therapy they should look for and what type of training or orientation the therapist should have. You can see a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, pastoral counselor, or other type of mental health professional because research finds they all can work well as long as you and the professional work well together. Because your health insurance company may only cover certain types of providers, however, make sure you look into how your plan works.

If you or someone you love is contemplating suicide, seek help immediately. For help 24/7, dial 988 for the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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