5 Common Myths About Anxiety, Depression and More

These days it can be hard to determine when you’ve surpassed your mental and emotional threshold. Everyone you know seems to be acting like superwomen—exercising, working 60-hour weeks, hitting the best parties—and beaming beautiful smiles on Instagram while they’re at it. Seeing people who “have it all” can make it difficult for us to admit to, or even identify, mental health issues we (and even our Instagram frenemies) might have.

According to a 2011 study, one in five people suffers from mental illness, like depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety. It’s likely that you have friends, colleagues and family members who are struggling in silence. Perhaps you are, too. Thankfully, there are movements, like Project Semicolon—a non-profit organization that uses the symbol of a semicolon to represent new beginnings for those dealing with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-harm—that are helping people connect worldwide and are breaking down the stigma little by little. To commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, have a heart to heart with someone you know and share your own story of mental and/or emotional turmoil. It might help him or her open up. If you need some icebreakers to start the mental health conversation, here are five myths about depression, anxiety, and more:

Myth: If I’m diagnosed with mental illness, it’s with me for life
Just because you received a diagnosis doesn’t mean you need to label yourself that way, says Jesse Hanson, clinical director and co-founder of Helix Healthcare Group, which offers contemporary treatments for mental health issues. “People live in the myth that I’m screwed, I’m stuck with it, the doctor told me I’ve got bipolar. I might as well get ready for a D+ life,'” he says. “But our brains can be rewired.” Hanson, who has a background in neuroscience, suggests we work to treat the diagnosis as a cluster of symptoms, such as the extreme mood swings characteristic of bipolar disorder. The same goes with excessive stress or an anxiety disorder. Instead of thinking our screaming kid is stressful, says Hanson, think of it as how we relate to a screaming kid. The result of certain triggers is that physiological response we feel—from our heart that’s beating out of our chest to headaches to sweaty palms. It’s not an overnight fix, but over time your reactions can improve.

Myth: Adrenal fatigue isn’t real
You’ve likely heard of cortisol—that stress hormone that gets secreted when we experience stress and that causes us to gain weight around our bellies (as if stress wasn’t bad enough!). Adrenal fatigue is making its way into our healthcare vernacular but is much less understood. “It is real,” says Hanson. “When someone has been operating in such a go, go, go way all the time, the adrenal glands [which release and regulate stress hormones] get worn out. The regulation of cortisol is not going to happen in a balanced way and the person is going to have extreme stress responses such as panic attacks, heart rate increases, racing thoughts—all these things are connected.” He notes that once you notice the symptoms, it’s likely too late to be changing your tune. Self-care activities like exercise, a good night’s sleep and taking a time out from work can all help prevent your system from becoming tapped.

Myth: The only way to raise serotonin levels is with medication
Prescription medications often work to balance out our levels or neurotransmitters, like serotonin, to help treat mental illness. There’s no doubt that they are invaluable in many instances, but it’s interesting to note that our serotonin levels can be impacted by our day-to-day activities. “Serotonin has to do with rest, relaxation, calming,” says Hanson. “Meditation, mindfulness and trauma resolution [practices] have been clinically shown to increase serotonin.” Somehow thinking that we are changing our chemical makeup by meditating makes it all the more enticing, right? Repeat after me: I will meditate tonight, I will meditate tonight, I will…

Myth: Talk therapy is the best option when it comes to mental health treatment
When we think about treating depression or anxiety, our minds can jump to the persistent image of the couch-shrink situation, in which the patient is discussing his or her woes while the psychotherapist keeps an eye on the clock. Undoubtedly, there are still therapists out there who subscribe to this method, but there’s no longer a one-size-fits-all approach. “Talk therapy can be effective for relatively high-functioning people that just need someone to vent to,” says Hanson, “but when you’re dealing with the majority of the population on the planet, especially in North America, those aren’t very effective and people get disenchanted and disheartened.” While you might find talking to a professional is enough for you, this is just to say that if you do find yourself without improvements, there are more individualized options out there.

Myth: I’m doomed if I can’t afford one-on-one therapy
You always want to start treating your mental health issues by seeing your doctor—your benefits package at work often covers some of your treatment. And sometimes, you could qualify for a funded option, like a program at a hospital. But if you find yourself out of options, and low on money (because, hey, those therapy sessions can be expensive) know that you can still get help. “At Helix, we offer group classes that are based in mindfulness meditation, sound therapy, acupuncture for $25. We do therapy groups that are $50,” says Hanson. You can even look at your community centres for mindfulness training, yoga studios or support groups. “One of the models I work with is called top down, bottom up,” says Hanson. “What that means is that everything that’s happening up top in our head is trickling down and it’s causing physiological, neurochemical responses in the brain, in the nervous system, in the muscular system. Everything that’s happening on the bottom is going up. If I choose to take yoga class instead of racing home to watch more Narcos, I’m going to get a different mental experience.”