Myths about Mental Illness

Myths about Mental Illness

written by: Dr. Christina Bjorndal
by: Dr. Christina Bjorndal
Shutterstock 79104379-667x520 Shutterstock 79104379-667x520

I am in the process of finishing the last chapter of my book: Beyond the Label. This chapter is titled the Myths of Mental Illness – and I am up to 37 myths – whoa! I thought I would share one of these myths in a blog post:

Myth #13 People will look at you differently if you reach out for help.

The fear surrounding this myth is common to many health conditions. It is the fear of being seen for who we really are. And without even talking about mental illness, it is one of the biggest obstacles to our true happiness. As a culture, we are afraid of being seen and make huge efforts to always 'put our best face on' for the world, showing only the happy/desirable/social-media-appropriate sides of ourselves while hiding, shaming and disowning the shadow sides. This tendency is what keeps us from having true connection. Tragically, it is what keeps us from ever feeling truly loved. How can we believe that we are truly loved (all parts of us) if we never show ourselves? When we get positive feedback on the groomed face we use for the world, we reinforce the belief that the ungroomed face would not be accepted and we must keep up the efforts to stay 'presentable'. Mental illness unfortunately only thrives under the effect of this fear, deepening the groove that tells us we need to hide the undesirable parts of us. The truth, however, is powerfully contradictory. There is strength, courage and beauty in being able to show all parts of oneself, though it is uncomfortable.

Think about the last time a person truly opened up about something painful, and you saw that they acknowledged it, were working towards accepting it, and trying to love themselves and others despite their perceived "flaw". What did you feel for that person? Compassion and frustration that they should have to deal with such stress and negativity? Were you wishing they could see themselves as you see them? Whenever I was brave enough to share my mental health labels (which include depression, anxiety, social phobia, bulimia and the big whammy of bipolar disorder type 1) with someone, I often expected something entirely different: judgment, a collapsing of our social status, loss of a friendship, misunderstanding, perhaps pity and a permanent shameful mark on my identity.

When we see someone who is bearing all, asking for help and reaching out, we are witnessing an act of vulnerability. Vulnerability, as Brené Brown says, is the best measure of our courage. By reaching out you give permission to others to be more honest with the world as well. It is an example of how we can be more whole-faced with each other. Perhaps the best way to debunk this myth is not by denying it wholly. Let's talk about it. If you are dealing with mental health concerns and you reach out for help with honest, open hands and are seen for all you are, shadow and light, people will see you differently. They will see you as being strong enough to be seen and to admit, accept and work with all parts of yourself. They will watch and say, "that is a whole person". And they will be emboldened to do the same for themselves.

If you are currently navigating the road to wellness with your mental health and need an allied health partner in the process, please contact the clinic for ways that I can be of service to you.