Sunday, 4 February 2018

Debunking the mental health myths

As a mental health activist, I'm aware that there are a lot of misconceptions out there when it comes to mental health. For one, we all have mental health (whether good or bad), and mental health should not be synonymous with mental illness. So when I finished a new book all about psychology myths, I knew I'd have to talk about it.

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein debunks what a lot of us actually believe about human behaviour and mental illness.

Psychological myths can be dangerous. What people think is true about mental illness can perpetuate the stigma and cause harm. And this is the bread and butter of this book - challenging stereotypes that exist thanks to misleading popular culture. Whether its news stories in the media, or what we consume in books and films, what we consume shapes how we think and feel about an issue.

For example, one stigmatising myth that keeps popping up in the media these days is that people with mental illness are dangerous. Whether it's terrorists, murderers, or even President of America, Donald Trump - lately the media is reinforcing the idea that mental illness is dangerous and is used as a justification for heinous crimes (Yes I did say heinous crimes like I was doing the Law & Order voiceover).
Myths like "most mentally ill people are dangerous" are debunked with science, evidence and facts.
And the book tackles this one, because there is no evidence that someone with a mental illness is more dangerous than someone without one. And people with a mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of, rather than the perpetrators, of violence. Yet the media coverage virtually guarantees that many people will think “violence” whenever they hear “mental illness” (Ruscio, 2000). And now I have sources and quotes aplenty for every time I have this argument on Twitter. (Which is a lot.)

That's not the only myth the book tackles - there are 50 of them after all. The media has also shaped, and mislead, public opinion about ECT (electric convulsive therapy) and schizophrenia.
"The misleading stereotype of schizophrenics as persons who act like two completely different people on different occasions has become ingrained in modern culture."
It also lists 10 sources of psychological myths, such as where they come from and why they exist, so that you can bust them yourself.

My favourite thing about the book was that all the self-help nonsense that has sold millions of books and that I've been buying into for years is debunked with clinical trials and research. It definitely helped me to unlearn old habits of thinking. For example, dismissing the 5 stages of grief, or challenging the validity of IQ tests. The book also details the harm these beliefs can lead to - like if we all just dismiss teenager's mood swings as 'normal', it may stop them from seeking and receiving the help and support they may need.

If you have an interest in stigma or even in the science and evidence behind popular beliefs, this book is a good read. It's also filled with puns, which always makes science a bit more fun!

Until next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment