People need to stop believing these misconceptions and myths.
Over the recent years, mental health is gradually receiving more of the importance and attention that it desperately needs in countries like India. However, a lot of misconceptions and myths still persist which further lead to stigmatising beliefs and shame. These collectively act as a barrier to seeking professional help.
1. Misconception: Mental illness is not a real illness.
Mental disorders are real illnesses—just like physical disorders. They are genuine health problems and need effective treatment just like any other physical illness.
2. Misconception: Mental illness is God's way of punishing us for our past sins.
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NO! Mental illness is not a result of sin and it has nothing to do with God or one's faith. It is just like telling people with cancer or diabetes that their illness is a result of their sins and they are being punished by God for it.
3. Misconception: Mental health problems are a sign of weakness.
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Mental disorders are not weaknesses, they are illnesses. No one chooses to have a mental illness. Our brain is an organ that is susceptible to any illness just like our hearts and lungs. It just means that you are human and you are susceptible to sickness and illness—the same as any other person.
4. Misconception: "Beta, you just need to change your mindset."
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Mental illness is not a mindset problem and anyone who thinks that way must change their mindset.
5. Misconception: People with mental disorders are possessed by evil spirits and can be healed by a tantrik or an ojha.
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This misconception is widespread and leads to harmful acts like chaining up a person with mental illness or beating them to chase out the evil spirits. Having a mental illness does not mean that one is possessed by evil spirits. Sure, mental illness can skew one's perception of reality and thinking and may cause a person to behave abnormally, but that does not mean that one is possessed. It affects the brain and cannot be cured by faith healers or a tantrik.
7. Misconception: People with mental illnesses are treated brutally in hospitals with electric shocks.
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There exists a lot of stigma regarding electroconvulsive therapy, and it is its fear that stops people from seeing a psychiatrist. Not everyone is given an electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and there are definitely many alternatives and treatment methods available to people seeking help.
ECT is one of the oldest treatment methods of mental disorders, however, it is not as brutal and barbaric as it is portrayed to be.
8. Misconception: Children don't experience mental health disorders.
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Mental illnesses can affect any age group, just like other physical illnesses. Nearly 50 million Indian children live with mental disorders. A report published by the WHO showed that nearly 258,075 Indians committed suicide in 2012 among which a large proportion are students aged 0–19 years.
9. Misconception: Mental illness only affects women.
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Mental illness can affect anyone. It is also because of this misconception (and toxic masculinity) that when a man opens up about their mental illness, they are asked to "man up" / "be a man". Hence, men are less likely to seek help and keep their illness cloaked in secrecy.
10. Misconception: Medications are harmful.
People usually tend to believe that medications for mental illness are dangerous. However, just like any other medical condition, most people require medical intervention. Only if the drug is abused, will it be harmful.
11. Misconception: People with mental illness are violent and a danger to society.
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Most people with mental disorders are not at all violent. The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. In fact, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators.
12. Misconception: "You don't need to see a therapist, you just need to pray to God."
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Should we also just pray to God and not see a dentist if we have a toothache?
13. Misconception: Only mentally "unstable" people visit a psychologist and seek therapy.
In India, there is a misconception that only "crazy" or "insane" people go to therapists and seek help and to that end, looking after one's own mental health is frowned upon. Hence, a majority of Indians are reluctant to seek help or see a psychologist because "log kya kahenge?" However, anybody can seek therapy at any give point of time if it's accessible to them. VIsiting a psychologist and seeking help is just like seeing a doctor for a regular health checkup and should be normalised.
14. Misconception: All psychiatric hospitals are scary places.
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This is a common myth popularised by movies, particularly horror fiction. Psychiatric hospitals and institutions are just like any other hospitals.