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Mental Illness Is Not Real

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hey everyone!

So I decided to name this thread "Mental Illness Is Not Real" to have the most appalling title possible and in turn capture the reader's attention, but the sad thing is, this notion that mental illness is not real is still held by many. I have found this to be commonly the case in some cultural groups such as my own, where there is an attitude of "sucking it up" and that "it's in your head so you control it". Depression is misconstrued as laziness, the excessive spending and reckless behaviour of mania might be described as "spoilt and ungrateful". Anxiety is weakness, and panic attacks are "dramatic" or, I quote, "brought on by yourself".

Of course, none of this is true and you'll find that mental illness is every bit as physiological as a broken leg. It's just that the chemicals involved are in the most complex organ of the body, the brain, and the psychology and the workings of the mind are so complex that it may be difficult to fully apprehend.

And perhaps that's why. Perhaps we dismiss what we cannot understand.

In light of this, was wondering if you guys wanted to discuss the stigma and misunderstanding? Is it more common in some cultural groups than in others? Have you personally faced this "denial of mental illness" and what is the best way to most kindly address it?

Hope to hear some stimulating discussion!



10 Replies 10

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hi Josette,

A very important thread indeed!

In my personal experience, a prominent misconception is that someone's distress (experiencing anxiety or depression) is considered an indication of that individual's lack of faith. The reasoning is that if your faith in God was strong enough than that in and of itself would be reassurance enough and dispell any concerns you have, that through your faith and your faith alone, you should find solace. It's so dangerous and damaging, because not only is it dismissive and invalidating what the person is experiencing, but it also triggers an existential crisis for that person, that they're lacking in spirituality OR that their beliefs all together could be maligned. I am very lucky that I have a great deal of self awareness as well as understanding to be able to call people out on how horrendous and harmful it is to say that to someone and believe it to be true.

I feel one's spirutality can be utilised to facilitate healing and some cathartic relief, but it cannot be the stand alone. It's supposed to be a part of a holistic approach to one's mental health. It's been proven that when patients are able to bring their culture and spirtuality into conversations with psychologists, that it's significantly aided their progress.

Within my community, I'm very forthright about mental health and try to find opportunities to bring about the conversation, expecially if it's in a religious context to shed light on how someone's faith can heal and help, as opposed to condeming someone to believe they're insufficient in faith or even possesed by some sort of evil. Honestly, these are real conversations that are had.

Hello Hawraa and Josette

Welcome both of you to the forum. Josette you certainly caught my attention.

This is a perennial discussion on the perceptions of others about mental illness. I cannot give much in-depth information about the customs and thoughts of other cultural groups, though I know there is a wide range of beliefs.

I am like Hawraa in the actions of the church. I hate the say the church because all church communities are not about blaming the unfortunate person on his/her mental health. But there is a belief in this abuse of their faith and the faith of others. Not acceptable. It marches with the belief that someone can cure their own mental illness by willpower. I wish.

I have to say my church (as in parish) and the broader diocese does have a far more compassionate attitude to MI and there is none of this rubbish about the veracity or strength of someone's faith. I have been depressed on and off for many years and found some of the greatest help from parishioners. You do not need to understand MI to walk with a friend, and that is what friendship is about. When situations in my life become difficult I know I can lean on a few people for a while.

My spirituality does not depend on any kind of political correctness. I have a strong faith but I do not force my views on anyone. Those who think differently are just as much part of the human race as anyone else.

My answer to your question Josette is that I have the same views as you. It's not confined to some cultural groups. This attitude is alive and well in Australia generally. OK I believe it is starting to diminish but I think it will take a lot of time. Quite often values and beliefs need several generations of discussion before perceptions are changed. Partly of course because major change is always difficult, partly because people are afraid of giving up their cultural anchors, and partly by fear that an admission that MI is like any other medical problem will expose them to the bogeyman off MI.

Great start Hawraa and Josette.


Community Champion
Community Champion

Josette, hawraa, White Rose and everyone reading,

Like Mary, your title certainly attracted my attention.

I have been living with a diagnosis of bipolar (or manic-depression as it was then) for over 43 years.

I have noticed a difference in attitude over the years and there is less stigma but of course it can still improve.

I remember over the years being told:

I was too young to be deressed( in those days it was believe only older people were depressed)

I was too fat to be depressed as it was believed only thin people were depressed,

I was lazy not depressed

I was selfish

I would grow out of my bipolar ( alas has not happened yet).

That depression was a choice.

They are just the tip of the iceberg.

I come from a cultural group many of whom believe you just need to focus and try harder .

Thanks again Josette for your interesting thread.


Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member
Wow, thanks everyone for these great insights! I do agree that the stigma and these harmful attitudes have reduced greatly in the past couple of years but we've still got a lot to go! That improvement though is inspiring 🙂

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

Hi guys,

Such a good topic,and yes i do feel and see that the attitides and beliefs behind this are shortening,it is still somthing people believe very strong in, i do understand we will never get rid of this thoughts out of peoples minds but aslong as the knowledge and awareness continue to growth with us i believe things will stay on a healthy level..

And i do have to admit i saw the title and was like ' hold on a second' lol very clever..

I did grow up in a very tough house hold coming from a multicultural background,were somthing as simple as having a headache ment you were whinging or faking to get out of somthing to do.

It was until i reached my 30s and reached out for help did my family and the hardheaded people around actually got it. And all the years of just thinking i was moody,or lazy or so up and down,there was an answer for that.

Which still to this day has been hard to explai. To my family,but as long as im ok and they understand me to the level im ok with then i dont and wont let it bother me anymore.. It took away to many years of my life with the whole struggle of my family not getting me..

But things are good and i hope they are good for all of you on this forum.

Thanks again for the great topic. 😀


Hello Robbie

It took away to many years of my life with the whole struggle of my family not getting me.. I think this is an important point especially when children develop a mental illness. They do not usually have a voice because adults tell them what to think and say. Not being hard on adults because in many ways that's what they are there for.

A child who is struggling with anxiety, or any MI, is missing out on getting appropriate help. He/she is also made to feel of no value, just complaining to avoid jobs, forced into situations that frighten them with no one to comfort them because it just does not occur to anyone the child is frightened. And the worst part is that the child grows up feeling inferior, always in the wrong, unacceptable, afraid to make friends and form relationships. So many potential disasters stem from the lack of recognition of a child's illness.

It is the long term consequences of this upbringing that in later life send people to psychologists, psychiatrists, end up in psychiatric hospitals etc. Of course this is not the fate of everyone but I wonder how many of us with a MI would not be here if our situation had been recognised in childhood.

Before I get a flood of reproaches let me say I know the majority of parents do a great job. Parenting models are copied by children and 'bad' models can lead to dysfunctional families. OK I will get off my soapbox. Who wrote "Give me a child until he is seven and he will be a (Roman) for life". It applies in all spheres of life.


Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member

The name of this thread definitely caught my eye, Josette!

This topic hits home.

I definitely think that multicultural people are behind in understanding what mental illness is, compared to Western people.

When I was depressed, my parents (immigrants from China and Hong Kong) brushed it off as attention-seeking. Later on when my depression got worse, my parents told me I was ungrateful, spoilt, etc. My sisters told me multiple times to kill myself so I wouldn't make the household miserable. My family wasn't supportive at all.

When I attempted suicide in my room, my Mum was hurt and retaliated by telling me to kill myself outside the house so the house won't have my death hanging all over <- FYI, NOT what to tell someone who is suicidal.

All that was over 3 years ago. I am in a much better mindset now, but I still get anxiety attacks, which my parents don't deal with very well.

Over a year ago, one of my friends (Chinese background) suicided because he couldn't land any graduate roles from his Bachelor of Commerce.

There is a lot of pressure of people (especially millennials) these days in landing a job because the economy isn't booming as it was before.

However, his parents put added pressure on him as he was male (Asians are very traditional in believing that males in the household should earn the most to provide for the family) and his elder sister was doing well in Deloitte (a top 4 Accounting firm).

I remember one of his snapchats where it showed his dad angrily shouting and shaking his fists at the camera/son. I didn't think too much of it back then (my parents are crazy too) but it hurts now to think back of all the pain he must have gone through in thinking he wasn't good enough as well.

There definitely needs to be more education around mental illness for multicultural people!

So true Quirkywords!

Imagine someone missing a leg or an arm being told they are too young to be disabled! (Are we allowed to even say disabled nowadays?) Or too fat to be missing a limb! Or that they’re just lazy not disabled! Or selfish! Or that they would grow out of their disability! That missing a limb was a choice...Unfathomable and laughable isn’t it? Yet, we still hear things like these today in regards to mental illness. Someone asked me the other day if I have ‘grown out’ of my depression! If I was ‘over it’ yet! Made me think we’d never say something like this to someone on a wheelchair and rightly so! I guess, not have visible symptoms, especially for those of us who manage to ‘function’, go to work, keep our places in order, pay our bills, raise our kids etc it can be harder to be listened to, to be given the attention needed to address our mental health. That’s why having forums like this is such a pivotal thing in engaging, sharing, informing and shaping trends and ideas that hopefully will bring beneficial, positive change in generational and cultural or religious attitudes that have traditionally hindered the healing process.

Community Member

Bit of a late reply to your post, but thought it was really topical at the moment. Increasingly more people are coming out to say that while their experiences were very real, being told they were caused by an 'illness' or a 'disease' was really unhelpful to them, especially as there isn't actually any good evidence for this. And also they found they got more stigma, more discrimination (including from professionals) and were sometimes forced to submit to treatments and perspectives on their own experiences that did the opposite of help them get over it. It's becoming really rough to be able to say look suffering is real but the concept of 'mental illness' is an analogy, an ideology - it's actually not real. It's rough, and now people who want to access therapy or group but not subscribe to this 'illness' ideology - while respecting others can if it suits them (just like christianity) are getting full-blown attacked by other group members and in some cases threatened with violence and the facilitators are doing nothing because its 'triggering' and if anything laying into the people themselves. Suffering is real, 'mental illness' is an ideology that some people find helpful and others find harmful. Its not better to attack people for saying its not real (especially when they've been hurt by being forced into the ideology and they are talking about their own experience). It's not fair to equate saying suffering is real, and it isn't 'pull your socks up' to saying 'mental illness is real'. mental illness is a concept. And it's getting to the point where some people who find that concept helpful are being every bit as horrible (sometimes more horrible) to the people who try and say it harmed them and the 'illness' isn't real, even if the suffering was, as the 'pull your socks up' or 'you're just lazy' people. In some ways actually it's a lot worse, because it's unexpected. I understand some people find the illness analogy/ideology helpful, but not everyone does. Suffering is real, but whether or not to think of their own experience as 'illness' is not something people should be forced to do. It's no longer cool not to realise 'mental illness is real' is actually really oppressive to people who *don't* want their experience categorised as illness. It's kind of like saying christ is the real god. Great if you're a christian, not so much for everyone else..