By Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist, and Michelle López, licensed marriage and family therapist at CHOC
“Mental health matters” is a motto we hear often with a hashtag that has millions of people following. In general, people have become more widely accepting of practicing coping skills (i.e., deep breathing, mindfulness, journaling) to improve their mental health.
However, despite the significant progress in the acceptance of mental health as an important part of overall well-being, we continue to come across stigma about having a mental health diagnosis and seeking mental health services. It is important to dispel these myths and delve into the reality of what is mental health and why it matters.
Myth 1: Having a mental health diagnosis is a sign of weakness.
Mental health challenges can occur for several reasons – contributing factors include genetics, environment, brain chemistry, family history, or life experiences. It is not something people can “snap out of” or ignore and it has nothing to do with being weak.
Oftentimes, society or family beliefs may spread the stigma that seeking treatment is a type of weakness, but in fact, it is the opposite. Acknowledging mental health challenges requires courage and seeking help requires strength and resilience!
Myth 2: Children don’t experience mental health challenges. They are too little!
Mental health has an impact on overall health for everyone, including children. Although childhood has been deemed the “age of innocence,” mental health issues can affect children of all ages, so it is important to recognize the warning signs and intervene early.
In fact, now more than ever childhood mental health is being widely discussed. After the pandemic, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health with the rates of anxiety and depression rapidly increasing and 15% of adolescents ages 12-17 reporting that they have made a suicide plan.
The research also shows that children who have experienced an adverse childhood experience (ACE) may experience mental, physical, and behavioral challenges later on in life. This is why pediatricians screen for ACEs starting from a young age to prevent and address the impact of ACEs and toxic stress early on.
Although children may not always talk about their mental health challenges, they do express these challenges in nonverbal ways (i.e., tantrums, outbursts, withdrawal). Caregivers should look out for any changes in their child’s behavior such as poor academic performance, mood swings, withdrawing or isolating, or an increase in somatic complaints that a pediatrician has ruled out as not related to physical health, as these symptoms could be warning signs that a child is struggling with their mental health.
Mental Health Education Program (MHEP) webinars
Myth 3: Taking medications is the only way for mental health symptoms to get better.
Taking medications is one of many ways to improve your mental health symptoms! Everyone’s experience is unique and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to how you approach your mental health. Some people find that taking medications only is beneficial for their mental health, while others find that engaging in therapy and learning new coping skills is the right approach for them.
Some people do a combination of therapy and medication, while others may choose to focus on lifestyle changes before moving toward mental health treatment (i.e., sleep, proper nutrition, mindfulness). Knowing the services available for mental health treatment can help you find the right treatment option for you.
Myth 4: Males do not need or access mental health services.
Although, historically, males have looked for mental health services less than females, males also engage in therapy. In fact, statistics show that 13.4% of males reported having received therapy in the past twelve months.
Although this figure is lower than that of females, who accessed mental health services at 24.7%, the statistics show that males also reach out and seek help. Continuing to have conversations about the importance of mental health for males may continue to improve the number of males who seek therapy.
Myth 5: Only individuals with a high income can obtain mental health services
With a recent surge in education about mental health and mental health treatment services, there are more resources accessible to people of all income levels. Whereas in the past mental health services may have been only provided through traditional private practice therapists, more mental health community clinics/programs are now available.
Many programs are low-cost or free of cost. Asking about mental health services in settings you engage with (schools, health care settings, etc.) can bring you one step closer to receiving help.
Myth 6: Mental health is a ‘fad’ or a trend!
Many people believe that an emphasis on mental health and wellness are newer concepts, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Media, including things such as television series and social media, have provided access to information to all individuals which helps to shed light on mental health issues providers have been addressing for many years. Mental health is parallel to physical health in that we care for it during our entire lifetime. With this, it is important to take daily, actionable steps to be both physically and mentally well. That is, our mental health is not going away.
Though myths about mental health may continue to surface, accurate information that is readily accessible can help people better understand what mental health is and why it is so important that we prioritize our mental well-being. Knowledge about therapy and mental health services can aid with promoting confidence to take a step to bettering and attending to our mental health. Even though the journey of mental health may look slightly different for everyone, each and every one of us deserves to attend to our mental wellness.
Get more expert health advice delivered to your inbox monthly by subscribing to the KidsHealth newsletter here.
The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.