6 Mental Health Myths to Say Goodbye to in 2023

As a trauma therapist, I often encounter beliefs amongst the general public about mental health and child psychology that aren’t true or are misunderstood. Since it’s a new year, I rounded up a list of the worst offenders to see if we can do a collective pruning of some of the most pervasive and damaging beliefs about mental health. Let’s do this.

The 6 Mental Health Myths to Say Goodbye to in 2023

Myth #1.

Believing we are “disordered” for behaviors that are natural human responses to childhood trauma.

Diagnoses following a traumatic childhood are a double-edged sword. On the one side, they allow insurance companies to pay for treatment. Still, on the other side, they can be inaccurate, stigmatizing, and harmful. Humans are complex beings, and diagnoses put people in one box or another. This isn’t always helpful to people with trauma because their symptoms are caused by real-life, external experiences, and their responses are natural – not disordered. As a result of a diagnosis, some people report feeling relieved. Still, others say a diagnosis made them feel trapped emotionally. One idea that might help is moving away from labels that end in “disorder” and opting for using less shameful language.

Myth #2.

Believing that infants and toddlers can’t remember what happened to them and shouldn’t have any trauma responses.

Young children may not have visual and narrative stories before the age of five due to their stage of human development. However, they retain implicit and emotional memories that can impact their mental health and behavior throughout their lifespan if left unaddressed. If a child experiences a traumatic situation in utero, that can also affect them over the long term. More infant mental health awareness is needed so parents and providers can intervene immediately with support instead of waiting for behavior problems to arise in the future. Prevention is always more potent than reaction regarding our mental health.

Myth #3.

Feeling individually responsible for healing or fixing emotional distress in yourself or others stemming from systemic abuse, intergenerational, and collective trauma.

I’m all for self-care and empowering people with the skills they need to thrive in a very uncertain world, but at the same time, this can’t be the only solution. We’ve all watched a big push in the media and across organizations to encourage self-care over the last few years. While that’s great, it will not solve our society’s underlying problems. Moreover, we can’t put the burden of healing solely onto individuals who were abused and neglected by systems and institutions meant to help them. Period.

Myth #4.

Expecting humans to achieve to their potential without psychological or physical safety in school, home, work, or the community.

“Go to school and learn,” we say, while also fearing for your life, being bullied, and not knowing when you will see your mom or dad again. This is the reality for the 400,000+ children in the U.S. child welfare system. Unfortunately, that’s not how our nervous system works. If we don’t feel safe, the portion of our brain responsible for learning and memory is not functioning at its highest potential. Instead, the brain is using its energy to keep you alive by constantly monitoring for threats to your safety. Feeling psychologically unsafe because of bullying or other types of abuse also prevents optimal emotional regulation, which can lead to behavioral challenges in the classroom and at home. We must help our children trust that they are safe to learn and grow into mentally healthy adults.

Myth #5.

Believing something is inherently wrong with you or your child for having symptoms of anxiety and/or panic attacks.

Anxiety and panic attacks are natural human responses to fear and distress. Some of us are also prone to being more anxious based on the temperament we were born with and our early life adversity. This is not our fault. There is nothing wrong with us having a full range of human emotions and responses. In fact, emotionally healthy people are not always happy, but they can move in and out of different emotions with ease. This doesn’t mean we don’t need support and/or treatment for anxiety, but we can stop feeling shameful about experiencing it. Fear is trying to protect you. It’s your brain’s job to help you survive, not to make you happy. Anxiety even has some beneficial features if you look for them.

What positive impact does anxiety make in your life? Perhaps it’s helped you avoid a disaster or keeps you organized and on schedule. Anxious people also tend to be more creative and compassionate. It can help to trash the myth that something is wrong with us so we can accept anxiety instead of trying to push it away.

Myth #6.

Thinking we can prevent or heal childhood adversity without providing resources and therapy to parents/primary caregiver(s).

As a trauma therapist, I see this myth in action daily. Can children make progress with individual therapy? Sure. But if the child returns to a home or school with dysregulated adults, the cycle will likely repeat itself. The most influential person in a child’s life is their parent and primary caregivers. If primary caregivers aren’t involved in therapy, it is unlikely we will see long-term behavioral or emotional change in the child.

I can keep going, but my trash can is getting full! When we become aware of these myths, we are more empowered to overcome adversity without shame and make informed decisions for our lives and the lives of our children.

***If you want to learn more about children’s mental health and childhood trauma please join me and 4,600 other parents and mental health professionals in my private Facebook group, Emotiminds. A safe place for you to ask questions, learn, and find support. We would love to have you.

Beth Tyson, MA, is a childhood trauma consultant, 3x best-selling author, and an advocate for children in the child welfare system. She founded Beth Tyson Trauma Consulting in 2019 based on her experience as a trauma therapist. Beth now provides trauma-responsive training and guidance to organizations that believe in supporting the mental health of children and families.

Contact her today for a quote on customized events and projects regarding children with trauma.


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