One in four of us will have a battle with mental illness at some point in our lives. In this past week alone, one in six adults have had a mental health problem.
But despite its unbelievably widespread prevalence, mental illness is still surrounded by misconceptions and stigma.
Today, it could be time to change that. October 10 is the World Health Organization’s World Mental Health Day. It hopes to address the wealth of misinformation and challenge the misconceptions that stop many people from talking about this pervasive problem.
Each year has a different theme, with this year particularly focused on the “psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in distress.”
One of the most common, and no doubt most frustrating, misconceptions is that mental illness is somehow a choice or a lack of willpower. Comic artist Robot Hugs puts it best in the comic “Helpful Advice”, which imagines the ludicrous notion of giving passing advice to people with physical illness.
That isn’t to say talking and advice isn’t helpful – far from it. But you wouldn’t say to someone with a broken arm “you just need to try harder to fix this”, or tell someone with high blood pressure “taking medication every day is very unnatural.”
"Helpful Advice" by Robot Hugs
The fact of the matter is, mental health isn’t picky when it comes to who it affects – whether it's you, a loved one, a friend, a family member, a colleague, Olympic medalists, world leaders, great thinkers, actors, models, or musicians.
The stereotype of someone suffering from mental illness might be a person who's become a social recluse and lies in bed all day, but the past years have seen a rise in “high-function depression” or “high-function anxiety”. These are people who, on the surface, appear happy, successful, and often seem to have it all going for them, but are actually suffering from mental health problems. It is therefore even more likely to go undetected, unreported, and unresolved.
So what can you do as an individual? Communication and changing perceptions are key. If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health problems, there are plenty of places you can go to try to help alleviate the problem, whether it's simply chatting to someone, visiting your doctor, or seeking help through a handful of charities, such as National Alliance on Mental Health in the US, Mind UK, or Mind Australia.