Mental health affects everyone in some way. We all likely know someone who has experienced a mental health issue at some point. We as cyclists have experienced it within our own community in devastating ways. Yet there are still many hurtful attitudes around mental health issues that fuel stigma and discrimination and make it harder to reach out for help. It’s time to look at the facts and do something about it.

Ten Common Myths about Mental Illness

Myth #1: Mental health issues aren’t real issues.

Fact: The words we use to describe mental health issues have changed greatly over time. What hasn’t changed is the fact that mental health issues are not the regular ups and downs of life. Mental health issues create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems with effective treatments. When someone breaks their arm, we wouldn’t expect them to just “get over it.” Nor would we blame them if they needed a cast, sling, or other help in their daily life while they recovered.

Myth #2: Mental health issues will never affect me.

Fact: All of us will be affected by mental health issues. Researchers estimate that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life. You may not experience a mental health issue yourself, but it’s very likely that a family member, friend, or co-worker will experience challenges.

Myth #3: Mental health issues are just an excuse for poor behaviour.

Fact: It’s true that some people who experience mental health issues may act in ways that are unexpected or seem strange to others. We need to remember that the issue, not the person, is behind these behaviours. No one chooses to experience a mental health issue. People who experience a change in their behaviour due to a mental health issue may feel extremely embarrassed or ashamed around others. It’s also true that people with a history of a mental health issue are like anyone else: they may make poor choices or do something unexpected for reasons unrelated to symptoms of their issue.

Myth #4: Bad parenting causes mental health issues.

Fact: No one factor can cause mental health issues. Mental health issues are complicated conditions that arise from a combination of genetics, biology, environment, and life experiences. Family members and loved ones do have a big role in support and recovery.

Myth #5: People with mental health issues are violent and dangerous.

Fact: Some people try to predict violence so they know what to avoid. However, the causes of violence are complicated. Researchers agree that mental health issues are not a good predictor of violence. In fact, if we look at mental health issues on their own, people who experience a mental health issue are no more violent than people without a mental health issue.Excluding people from communities is linked to violence. And people with mental health issues are often among those who are excluded. It’s also important to note that people who experience mental health issues are much more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent.

Myth #6: People don’t recover from mental health issues.

Fact: People can and do recover from mental health issues. Today, there are many different kinds of treatments, services, and supports that can help. No one should expect to feel unwell forever. The fact is, people who experience mental health issues can and do lead productive, engaged lives. They work, volunteer, or contribute their unique skills and abilities to their communities. Even when people experience mental health issues that last for a long time, they can learn how to manage their symptoms so they can get back to their goals. If someone continues to experience many challenges, it may be a sign that different approaches or supports are needed.

Myth #7: People who experience mental health issues are weak and can’t handle stress.

Fact:  Stress impacts well-being, but this is true for everyone. People who experience mental health issues may actually be better at managing stress than people who haven’t experienced mental health issues. Many people who experience mental health issues learn skills like stress management and problem-solving so they can take care of stress before it affects their well-being. Taking care of yourself and asking for help when you need it are signs of strength, not weakness.

Myth #8: People who experience mental health issues can’t work.

Fact: Whether you realize it or not, workplaces are filled with people who have experienced mental health issues. Mental health issues don’t mean that someone is no longer capable of working. Some people benefit from changes at work to support their goals, but many people work with few supports from their employer. Most people who experience serious mental health issues want to work but face systemic barriers to finding and keeping meaningful employment.

Myth #9: Kids can’t have a mental health issue like depression. Those are adult problems

Fact: Even children can experience mental health issues. In fact, many mental health issues first appear when a person is young. Mental health issues may look different in children than in adults, but they are a real concern. Mental health issues can impact the way young people learn and build skills, which can lead to challenges in the future. Unfortunately, many children don’t receive the help they need.

Myth #10: Everyone gets depressed as they grow older. It’s just part of the aging process.

Fact: Depression is never an inevitable part of aging. Older adults may have a greater risk of depression because they experience so many changes in roles and social networks. If an older adult experiences depression, they need the same support as anyone else.

These myths—and many more—exclude people with mental health issues from our communities and create barriers to well-being. If we want to reduce the impact of mental illnesses on our communities, we need to learn the facts and start with our own assumptions and behaviours.

Do you need more help?

Contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support and resources in your area.

Founded in 1918, The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is a national charity that helps maintain and improve mental health for all Canadians. As the nation-wide leader and champion for mental health, CMHA helps people access the community resources they need to build resilience and support recovery from mental health issue.