People often believe that those who struggle with a mental illness can ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get a grip’ but this isn’t true. The severity of symptoms can vary both between people and over time, but this doesn’t mean that the mental illness is no longer present. Beliefs like this are probably the result of the stigma that resolves around mental illnesses. In this EDIT Lab blog post, Thalia Eley and placement student Emma bishop discuss the stigma of mental health.
“Telling someone to ‘get a grip’ when they are experiencing a mental illness is the equivalent of telling someone to write when they have broken fingers.”
A common misconception held by people is that those suffering with a mental health disorder can simply ‘snap out of it’. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Telling someone to ‘get a grip’ when they are experiencing a mental illness is the equivalent of telling someone to write when they have broken fingers. The reason why people can’t just ‘snap out of it’ is because mental health disorders are a medical condition, not a mood. Take depression for example, depression is persistent sadness which lasts weeks or months. In contract, sadness is a common emotion that is usually temporary, lasting perhaps a few days.
“No-one other than the individual concerned can truly know how they are feeling inside”
One reason why people may think that those with a mental disorder can ‘snap out of it’ is that sometimes individuals who suffer with a mental health disorder can come across as if they are happy and outgoing. However, no-one other than the individual concerned can truly know how they are feeling inside, and of course everyone, not just those with mental illness, have both good and bad days. The severity of someone’s symptoms can vary due to a number of factors. For example, lack of sleep, high caffeine or any current life events. Another probable cause of negative attitudes towards those with a mental health disorder is stigma.
Unfortunately, mental illness is still stigmatised among a large amount of people. This could in part be due to how visible symptoms are. For depression and anxiety, most symptoms are internal and experienced only by the individuals concerned. For other types of mental health condition, such as Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, some symptoms result in behaviours that can be clearly be seen by others. Interestingly, one study found that the percentage of people believing those with a mental disorder could ‘snap out of it’ was highest for depression and anxiety than other disorders. This could partly be due to the reduced visibility of these symptoms, but could also be because the emotions that are central to these disorders are familiar, as almost everyone experiences them occasionally, to some degree. As such, people will recognise these symptoms in others and may think back to their own experiences of feeling this way. This can contribute to the stigma surrounding mental health as there can be a misunderstanding about the different severities in which people can experience mental illness (see our other blog on “Depression is not just about feeling sad”).
“The percentage of people believing those with a mental disorder could ‘snap out of it’ was highest for depression and anxiety than other disorders“
Despite mental health being complex, help is available. The NHS has a variety of treatment options for those suffering with mental illness. Those with anxiety or depression can access talking treatments such as CBT or counselling or can access medications such as antidepressants. Self help options are also available such as practising mindfulness, activities such as yoga to help with breathing regulation and avoiding caffeine/ alcohol.
Hopefully research into mental health disorders such as the GLAD study will lead to more understanding and awareness about these illnesses, reducing stigma surrounding them in the process.