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Some Mental Health Myths to Forget About in 2013

Posted: 12/24/2012 11:59 am

They're trite. They're tired. They're untrue. We may not even be aware of it, but most of us live by a set of aphorisms that are, quite frankly, made up. Fictions. Fallacies.

In our psychotherapy practice, we call these myth-conceptions pop-culture poppycock that stubbornly persists despite having no scientific basis or benefit. These bull-crap beliefs become entrenched at an early age and are handed down from generation to generation with the same alacrity of grandma's cookie recipe changing hands. We gobble them up, swallowing them whole and without question.

But we need to question. By challenging faulty beliefs we're free to set a new course, to create a mental map that is consciously chosen. Here are a few of the most pervasive myth-understandings to leave behind as you head into a new year. Leave these mental albatrosses buried in 2012 where they belong.

1. People don't change. Yes, they do. All the time. In fact, change isn't only possible, it's necessary. Darwin helped us figure that out over a century ago when he observed some species flourishing where others floundered. He called this finding "survival of the fittest" -- and by fittest he didn't mean strongest, he meant most adaptable. In our practice, we see magnificent examples of adaptation all the time. But you have to want it; it's not so much that people don't change, it's that they won't change.

2. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Wrong. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing poorly. Worthiness and mastery are not intertwined concepts. Indeed, if perfection was the only barometer of merit, most of us would never get out of the starting gate. Talk about performance anxiety! The bottom line is this: if we only dwell in those endeavours that come with a guarantee of success, we live a shallow life. For 2013, each of us needs to develop the courage to be imperfect. Good enough is good enough.

3. You don't make the same mistake twice. Sure you do. Mistake-making is murky, and muddy, and wonderfully nuanced. The journey to enlightenment is a journey of a thousand steps. Psychological theorist Alfred Adler called life "the great becoming" -- we are in a constant state of 'bettering'. And if we want to be a part of that beautiful bettering, we need to risk, to make mistakes. Life is long. Get dirty.

4. It isn't fair! Yikes. Stop moping! On the BS-scale, that one's right up there. It's a cop-out, a handy way of sidestepping personal responsibility when we feel unable to face the challenges of life. Listen, the dog actually does wag the tail. We are not simply victims of life's happenstances. In actuality, we not only create our own realities, but we have the opportunity to recreate them, too. If you feel that life isn't fair, instead of waiting for someone to hand you a Kleenex, why not ask the question "what am I willing to do about it?"

5. There are two sides to every story. While that's a great start, in fact there are many more than two sides to every story. This is an example of dichotomous, or black and white, thinking. Sorry, but life is lived in the grey areas. No two of us interpret events the same way, meaning that there are as many "sides" to a story as there are humans on the planet. The world would be a better place if we attempted to wrap our minds around all of them. It's messy, but it's just. So, instead of "I'm right, you're wrong," consider what another person must believe in order for them to perceive this as their "truth."

6. All you need is love -- la la la la la. We love The Beatles too, but it's time to put down the hookah pipe and think seriously about the love-is-all-there-is mantra. We don't actually love everybody -- and nor should we. (Let's face it, we may even find some a challenge to like.) The commandment to love thy neighbour is a metaphor. What we are really charged with is the task of respect. We follow a philosophical tenant that requires us to treat all fellow beings with equanimity -- including the cranky neighbour and the obnoxious in-law. So, yes, love is great, but we should all aspire to a far less lofty (and far more achievable) goal -- respect and its offspring, civility. "All you need is respect, la la la la la." (Not nearly as catchy is it? Well, guess that's why The Beatles are the songwriters and we're the therapists.)

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  • In any given year, one in five people in Canada has a mental health problem or illness.

  • Of the 6.7 million people who have a mental health problem, about one million are children and teenagers between nine and 19 years old.

  • Mental health problems cost at least $50 billion a year, or 2.8 per cent of gross domestic product, not including the costs to the criminal justice system or the child welfare system.

  • In 2011, about $42.3 billion was spent in Canada on treatment, care and support for people with mental health problems.

  • Mental health problems account for about 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims.

  • If just a small percentage of mental health problems in children could be prevented, the savings would be in the billions.

 

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