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Mental Health & Substance Use

Understanding Mental Health and Myths about Mental Illness

December 13, 2023
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Mental health is a vital part of our health and well-being. Unfortunately, there are many myths about mental illness. Dispelling these myths and knowing the truth about mental illness can increase our empathy and support for those with mental health conditions. It can also ensure that stigma does not prevent us from seeking help ourselves when and should we need it.

What is a mental illness?

First, it’s important to understand what it means to have a mental illness. The National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) offers a simple definition: Mental illness is “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior, or mood.” It can impact one’s ability to function daily and their relationships with others.

Some well-known conditions include anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also common. Others include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Now, let’s shed light on some of the myths that surround mental health.

Common myths

Things to look out for

The following is a list of common warning signs of a possible mental health condition. If someone is experiencing one or two, they may need evaluation. Someone who experiences several signs at once should seek help. Those with thoughts of suicide or harming others need immediate attention.

The “hidden signs”

Not all signs of a mental health condition are obvious to others. If you are experiencing any of the following, you should seek help:


Stigma is a negative attitude or idea about a certain trait or condition. Unfortunately, there is still stigma surrounding mental illness. As a result, those suffering from these conditions may feel embarrassed or ashamed. This can lead to increased isolation, withdrawal, and hesitance to seek help, which can lead to worsening of the condition.

There are things we can all do to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health:

You can learn more about stigma and how to cope with it here. How to Cope with Stigma When You Have a Mental Illness (

The physical impact

While mental health is directly associated with the brain, it also impacts the body. It can increase stress, disrupt sleep, and affect appetite. It can impact a person’s ability to engage in behaviors we know have a positive impact on health, like eating healthy foods and exercising. Many mental health conditions are also associated with substance use, including smoking and alcohol use, which can have negative effects on the body over time.

As a result, a mental health condition may increase the risk for dangerous conditions. Those include:

That is why getting treatment for a mental health condition is so important.

Ways to improve your mental health

There are many ways we can improve our mental health and well-being. Experts such as psychiatrists and therapists can offer therapy and/or medication. Their proven techniques and strategies can help you feel better.

There are other things you can do to improve your mental health too.

How to support a loved one with a mental illness

If someone you know is experiencing  challenges with their mental health, there are ways you can help:

It’s important that we all understand the truth about mental health. Together we can create more compassion and empathy for those who need support.

Getting help

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health issue, help is available. For support, call 988, text 988, or chat at


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