Tackling myths around mental health

Doyin Adeyemo


It is both alarming and surprising the number of myths that surround mental health, especially in this part of the world where we attach spiritual connotation to anything and everything. There are many stereotypes surrounding mental illness that are both harmful and stigmatizing.

One major misconception is that people with mental health challenges are unable to function in society. Every day, people dress up and go about their daily lives, completely undetected to be struggling. From the outside, they look completely normal. However on the inside, there is a battle ongoing.

It is important to note that there is no look to mental illness. A disheveled appearance isn’t a symptom of mental illness. Another misconception among the general public is the belief that individuals with mental illness are dangerous to the society. These misconceptions are not accurate and they contribute to stigmatization.

Mental illness is a general term for a group of illnesses that may impact on a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behavior. They include: depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia and developmental disorders including autism.

Many mental disorders are severe enough to impair a person’s ability to function. In fact, for many mental health conditions, significant impairment is a diagnostic criterion. In some cases, a mental illness may be less severe, and although a person experiences symptoms, they are still able to function normally, most of the time. This hidden condition is colloquially known as high-functioning mental disorder. Some of which are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder among others.

High functioning mental illness is the term that has been adopted to describe those living with a mental illness that is almost undetectable. It covers a broad spectrum; they might have a job, be studying, dress well or even have the ‘perfect’ family lifestyle.

Those characterized as high-functioning are less likely to ask for help because they are convinced nothing is wrong, or that their feelings are invalid. These individuals are often discouraged from seeking treatment, as they tend to be told “but you don’t look like you are struggling” by those they discuss their feelings with.

Imagine someone who seems to be living a perfect life. She has a great job, a loving and supportive partner and plenty of fun outside of work. Getting to the office on time is no problem and she is one of the most productive employees at work.

There’s one problem though; she is miserable, unable to derive happiness from much of anything because she lives with high-functioning depression, it is difficult for people to understand how anything could be wrong.

High-functioning mental illness can be characterized by the same diagnostic symptoms as anxiety and depression, but those with it manage their daily life as though nothing is wrong, and some even excel in certain areas.

The diagnosis for high-functioning depression is officially called Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD). Some experts believe that the term high-functioning depression stems from lack of clarity of Persistent Depressive Disorder or as it is otherwise called, Dysthymia.

As this form of depression may be less intense than others, it allows a person to live a relatively normal life without appearing sick to other people. Common symptoms include: sleeping too much or too little, decreased appetite or overeating, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, trouble making decisions and feeling of hopelessness.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding high-functioning depression on whether it is a true medical diagnosis or not; however, the fact remains that it exists. Just because one is typically able to get out of bed and present as “normal” to the world doesn’t mean that one is not suffering.

The stigma surrounding depression and other high functioning mental conditions can make seeking help difficult. These stigma include the belief that only those with severe symptoms, such as inability to function in daily life or with suicidal thoughts require treatment.

People living with mental disorder need significant support and care from those around them; the support of family members, friends, peer groups, colleagues and even religious organizations will definitely go a long way in  stemming the tide of depression and other high functioning mental disorders in the country.

Adeyemo is of the Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja




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