What is mental wellbeing? Unravelling common misconceptions
Everybody grapples with their mental wellbeing from time to time. In the UK alone, 1 in 4 people say they experience mental health problems every year, while 1 in 6 will be diagnosed with a common condition like anxiety or depression every week.
Yet, despite the huge number of people affected by mental wellbeing and the wider awareness of this important topic, there are still misconceptions, myths and misunderstandings that stop millions from talking about how they feel.
Although positive progress is being made, far too many still feel the need to stay silent about their mental health and wellbeing. Here, we explore this in more detail, why mental health is so important, and the common misconceptions that can stop people from seeking help.
What is mental wellbeing?
Mental wellbeing has different meanings for different people. For some, it’s how they talk about their emotions and feelings. For others, it’s a term they use to describe how they’re coping in their daily lives.
Whatever mental wellbeing means to you, it’s important to remember that, much like our physical health, mental wellness affects everyone and is something we should all take time to look after.
It is important to note that mental wellbeing or mental health refers primarily to our emotions, thoughts and behaviours, often influenced by our life experiences. This is not the same as mental illness, which encompasses a range of disorders often caused by our genetics or brain chemistry.
While ongoing low mental health can lead to the development of mental illnesses, they are different and should be treated as such.
Why is good mental wellbeing important?
By being open and proactive, you can improve your mental wellbeing. This doesn’t mean that you’re always happy, or immune from experiencing mental health issues. Just like when we suffer with an illness or injury, there will always be events and experiences that leave you feeling sad, nervous or stressed.
Rather, good mental wellbeing means feeling confident and content in yourself the majority of the time, so you can enjoy an overall positive outlook on life.
This can make it easier to handle life’s ups and downs, allowing you to better manage your daily stresses, empathise with others, and take steps that benefit your long-term health.
Nurturing your mental health can also play a role in limiting physical illnesses such as headaches and fatigue, as well as more serious long-term conditions including diabetes and heart disease.
This is not to say that those with poor mental wellbeing are somehow ‘wrong’ or flawed’. It's entirely normal to have challenging days, but they don’t have to be a permanent fixture in your life when you take steps to look after your wellbeing.
What are some of the biggest mental health misconceptions?
The significance of positive mental wellbeing has been valued more and more in recent years. But unhelpful myths remain that add to the stigma surrounding mental health. Here we outline four common misconceptions you may be holding onto, and explain why they’re far from true.
“Having poor mental health makes me weak”
When we experience mental health issues, it can bring overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness and exhaustion to the surface – emotions some believe are ‘abnormal’ or ‘signs of weakness’.
Others believe that experiencing poor mental wellbeing is down to their own flaws or a sign that they ‘aren’t trying hard enough’ to overcome their challenges.
The reality is that millions of people experience struggles with their mental wellbeing everyday – simply being able to push through and carry on during these tough times takes extraordinary strength and determination.
Saying someone is weak for struggling with their mental health makes as much sense as calling someone with asthma lazy, or saying someone is a ‘fussy eater’ because they have a food allergy. These internal battles take a lot of strength to manage every day, and make taking steps toward mental health therapy one of the bravest things you can do.
“Nobody will understand how I think and feel”
Another common misconception that causes people with mental health problems to close off and stay silent is a worry they will be misunderstood – as if nobody will recognise or accept what they’re feeling and experiencing.
In truth, living with mental health conditions is something that everyone – young people, old people and everyone in between – can relate to. Even some of Britain’s most well-known personalities understand the gravity of these difficulties…
“There is an awful stigma against mental health and I know that asking for help and seeking help isn't something that we should be ashamed of.” – Tom Holland
“It is OK to suffer, but as long as you talk about it, it is not a weakness. Weakness is having a problem and not recognising it and not solving [it].” – Prince Harry
“Whatever you do, you need to have someone you can talk to. It’s healthy. That was my first fight and I stand by it.” – Naomi Campbell
“Depression, anxiety, listlessness – these are as real as the weather – and equally not under one’s control.” – Stephen Fry
Fundamentally, nobody is immune to mental health issues, just as nobody is immune to physical illnesses or injuries. So if you ever feel like nobody understands what you’re going through, speaking to someone can help you realise that you are not alone.
“Acknowledging my emotional challenges will make things worse”
It’s thought that almost 20 million adults avoid speaking about their mental health. One of the reasons for this is a fear that acknowledging their challenges will validate their issues, making their condition worse or unlocking the door to strong, difficult emotions.
While opening up about your struggles can unleash a powerful rush of feelings, it’s important to remember that this is only temporary. Once you’ve taken this first step, the journey ahead becomes easier over time, until you are at a stage where you can address your emotions in a calm, controlled manner day-to-day.
If you take this misconception to heart, you allow all of the thoughts and feelings you keep locked away to build and grow, making it much harder to finally let them free. So when you’re struggling, taking action early helps you overcome this hurdle and start the path to feeling better more comfortably.
“My problems aren’t worthy of a therapist’s time”
Another common barrier preventing individuals from seeking help is the belief that their struggles are not as severe as others; that their feelings do not warrant mental health support.
Just as you wouldn't hesitate to consult a doctor for a physical health problem, you shouldn't avoid seeking emotional support when you’re struggling – your mental wellbeing is important, and reaching out for assistance is key to your recovery and healing.
Whether you prefer online CBT courses, in-person counselling, over-the-phone sessions, or typed therapy – you don’t have to deal with your challenges alone.
Why it’s important to challenge mental health misconceptions
Challenging the many myths of mental wellbeing is key to breaking down the barriers to treatment for you and countless others facing challenges similar to yours.
However, not everybody you meet will understand the importance of mental wellbeing, or the right way to approach these struggles. In these circumstances, try to have a calm, open discussion with them, offering some insight into the fact that mental health is something we can all have problems with from time to time.
Contesting these common misconceptions is a great way to accept and improve how you look after your mental health, but it is not the only way to improve your wellbeing:
- Make time for enjoyable activities
- Practise mindfulness exercises
- Talk to people you trust
- Keep active where you can
- Try to eat a balanced diet
- Speak to a therapist
Do you need support with your mental wellbeing?
Your mental wellbeing can impact all areas of your life, from the way you feel each day and how you empathise with others, to your physical health and overall quality of life.
That’s why it’s so important to take the time and effort to nurture yours. Going for walks, eating right, and talking with family and friends are good first steps, but overcoming these misconceptions and seeking professional help is how you can make lasting, positive changes now and for the future.
As the local NHS Talking Therapies service for North East and South East Essex, at Therapy For You we offer a range of free treatments that can help you towards a healthier, happier future:
For more information on the wellbeing support we can provide, get in touch with one of our qualified therapists today.