Mental illness is a taboo topic in most African cultures especially in Ethiopia. The widespread stigma makes families hide their members who are suffering from mental illness because of the discrimination they have to endure. Often people are afraid to talk about mental health because there are many misconceptions about mental illnesses. It’s important to learn the facts to aid in stopping the stigma that surrounds psychiatric illness. As with many things in life, the more information we are armed with, the less likely we are to allow myths to color our opinions.
Over recent years, mental health has slowly moved out of the shadows. After centuries of being sidelined, our state of mental well-being is gradually receiving more of the attention that it deserves. However, many myths persist. Before we address the 8 common misconceptions about mental health, lets define what mental health is.
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions - disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.
1. Mental Illness is just Demonic Possession
In Ethiopia, most people who show signs of mental health issues are taken to church. Because of that, It is common for people to associate mental health issues with demonic possessions. However, that is far from the truth. We must change the narrative that demons, bad spirits or sin are causing the mental illness and that it can be prayed away.
2. Those with Mental Illness ONLY need spiritual help
People with mental illness need spiritual AND physical help. It is dangers to only pay attention to the spiritual needs of someone with mental health struggles while ignoring their physical needs.
3. Mental health problems are rare
Mental illnesses are common in the United States. Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness (51.5 million in 2019) and some say that the numbers are higher in most African nations.
4. People with mental health conditions cannot work
An old but persistent myth is that people with mental health issues cannot hold down a job or be useful members of the workforce. This is entirely false. It is true that someone living with a particularly severe mental health condition might be unable to carry out regular work. However, the majority of people with mental health issues can be as productive as individuals without mental health disorders.
5. Mental health problems are a sign of weakness
This is no more true than saying that a broken leg is a sign of weakness. Mental health disorders are illnesses, not signs of poor character. Similarly, people with, for instance, depression, cannot “snap out of it” any more than someone with diabetes or psoriasis can immediately recover from their condition.
6. Mental health problems are permanent
A mental health diagnosis is not necessarily a “life sentence.” Each individual’s experience with mental illness is different. Some people might experience episodes, between which they return to their version of “normal.” Others may find treatments — medication or talking therapies — that restore balance to their lives. Some people may not feel as though they have fully recovered from a mental illness. However, the take-home message is that many people will recover to a greater or lesser degree.
7. Children and teens do not experience mental illness
Research shows that 1 in 5 teenagers have or will have a mental illness. In 50% of adults who have a mental health issue, the first signs showed up before age 14. If you are concerned about your child, please seek professional help.
8. All people with a mental illness are violent
This, of course, is a myth. Thankfully, as the world becomes more aware of mental health conditions, this misconception is slowly dying away. Even individuals who are experiencing the most serious conditions, such as schizophrenia, are mostly nonviolent.
It is true that some people with certain mental illnesses can become violent and unpredictable, but they are in the minority.
In summary, mental health conditions are common, but treatment is available. We must all work together to remove the myths and stigma attached to mental disorders.People should not suffer in silence. When we openly discuss mental health issues we remove the shame, stigma and prejudice which people may experience. Remember that with help, there is hope.