Three mental illness lies to stop believing and the real truth about them.
“You have bipolar disorder,” my new doctor told me. She was as friendly as a stink bug but with less of a smile.
It was my second day of inpatient psychiatric care. I had not slept in over two weeks and was well beyond unstable.
“I’m not crazy,” I told her, the fire of defiance burning inside me.
“No,” she agreed. “You have bipolar.” She dismissed me before I could say more.
An orderly walked me back to my room while I cussed the doctor and her nonsense. I was not bipolar. People with bipolar were crazy. I was not crazy.
Except… I was.
Believing three lies almost killed me. The truths I learned saved me.Download Your Copy
The year was 1995. The Oklahoma City Bombing occurred the same week, but the tragedy was nothing more than a blur mixed in with the random faces swirling around me. I was cold, callous, and disconnected.
It was no short trip to what turned me into the “bipolar monster,” the name I came to call my chaotic state. My mental health gradually fractured over several years, ever since memories resurfaced that were too painful for me to face. Instead, I got in my car and drove 900 miles to a new home.
The growing instability followed me. A new life in a different state helped me to hide the monster, but he continued to grow inside me, taking more of my mind and soul with each passing day.
Before long, it was all too much. To quiet the animal I couldn’t understand, I decided to end everything.
In the nick of time, God sent a warrior to bust through my mobile home door and sweep me away from the table covered with colorful pills and the bottle of vodka that was to wash them down.
My life was saved, but it quickly became a life that was unrecognizable.
Here are the mental illness lies that were soon revealed to me.
Lie #1 — Mental Illness Is a Weakness
The world has made a lot of progress in terms of mental illness understanding since 1995. My early impressions of bipolar disorder made me equate it with mental weakness.
I was a man — a young, strong, healthy man. Nothing going on in my head was more than I could handle.
Somewhere along the way I learned the lie, and worse yet, I believed it. Part of me knew it wasn’t true, but I couldn’t shake it.
Voices chanted in my head. If I was mentally ill, then I was weak. If I was weak, then I wasn’t a real man. And if I wasn’t a real man, then life was not worth living.
Truth #1 — Fighting Proves Your Strength
The truth is mental illness and weakness have nothing to do with each other. It’s no different than attributing diabetes or cancer to a lack of physical power.
Mental illness is not something you cause or prevent based on your strength. It’s an illness and needs to be properly addressed.
I am blessed to know many mental illness warriors. They are by far the strongest people I know. This is true for both the men and women I know who fight this battle.
My battle with the weakness lie persisted through all six years of therapy. There are still times now I fight it even though I know it’s an insidious lie.
Fighting a literal monster is hard. You may come away bruised and bleeding, but the fight eventually ends. Battling an internal beast is a war that never ends, and no one sees the blood and gore it inflicts.
Continuing to fight takes strength — tremendous strength. There’s no weakness in coping with mental illness.
Lie #2 — Mental Illness Is a Lack of Faith
I had some amazing friends at the time when everything fell apart. After the doctors released me from the hospital, my friends whisked me away to the beach for a few days. It gave me a chance to get used to the real world again before going back to my old life.
I did not understand how valuable those days were until I tried to live everyday life again. Back in the real world, other “well-intentioned” friends nearly sent me back to the hospital screaming in tears.
“A servant of God doesn’t get depressed,” one of my false comforters told me. “All you need to do is pray more and read your Bible. That’s the Christian way.”
Those mental illness lies devastated me, and sadly, encouraged one friend not to seek treatment. He ultimately lost the fight.
In my mind, not only was I a weak man, but I was a failure as a Christian. The added weight was more than I could bear, and I quickly returned to dosing myself with alcohol along with my collection of new medications.
Mental Illness Statistics
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year
1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year
1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year
50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24
Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34
– From the National Alliance on Mental Illness –
Truth #2 — Faith Won’t Cure You
The mental illness lie that you can pray away mental illness needs to go the way of blood-letting and leeches. Even if you have the strongest faith in the world, mental illness will devastate and flatten you.
I am now and always will be a man of faith. True faith is the most important part of my mental health regimen. Maintaining a belief in a higher power keeps me grounded and gives my life meaning and hope.
Yes, having faith improves my mental health, but no matter how many times I read the Bible or other holy books, my bipolar is not going away. We don’t live in the time of miracles, so Jesus won’t be coming to heal us today.
If anyone is telling you otherwise, they are a toxic influence. Protect yourself from their lies as you would with any other poison.
True faith should build you up. It can be a stabilizing, strengthening aid, but it won’t “fix” you.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness reveals nothing about the quality of your faith. That’s something between you and God and no one else.
Lie #3 — Mental Illness Makes You Dangerous
I was helplessly sliding down the face of the Himalayas. My unsympathetic doctor continued to throw more and more medications at my psychosis as I was drowning deeper in the tar pits of hell.
Until my hospital confinement, I spent a lot of time with the youth in my congregation. My time with them decreased after I returned, but it wasn’t a concern at first. I imagined some people were staying back to give me time to heal. It was an act of love. Or so I thought.
My bipolar monster demanded attention, and although I was throwing lots of psychotropic drugs at it, it continued to look for ways to torture me. The wait wasn’t long.
I had an evening planned for a night of movies and boyhood stupidity. It was one of the few things keeping me going. Some “friends” whose sons were to attend became increasingly distant. Finally, one of them told me why.
“People with bipolar are a danger to others,” he said. “My sons will not be spending any more time with you.” He chose to believe one of the mental illness lies.
It was the last nail in the coffin and led me to some terrible decisions. Fortunately, the truth became clear in time.
Truth #3 — Dangerous Only to Yourself
Let’s not pretend that there hasn’t been some terrible atrocities committed by people with mental illness. Sadly, those awful stories often receive the widest media coverage.
What’s the truth? Does having a mental illness make you more of a danger to others?
My opinion doesn’t matter here. Consider this tidbit from MentalHealth.gov:
Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. (Bold type added by author)
Do a quick internet search, and you’ll see this fact repeated in many studies.
Truth be told, most of us with mental illnesses only want to hurt ourselves. It’s the reason why the suicide rate among patients with bipolar is as high as 20-percent. Schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder have rates only a few points lower.
Having those young men ripped from my life was crushing, but my true friends rallied around me. The bonds I formed with them and their children are worth far more than anything I might have lost.
Men Get Mental Illness
Online statistics will tell you that mental illness is more prevalent in women than in men. Possibly, the only reason the rates for men are lower is because men are less likely to seek help.
Stigmas and lies, such as those listed here, continue to claim lives. They almost took mine, and stole the lives of several of my friends.
If you are dealing with thoughts and feelings that might be a mental illness, I beg you to please seek help immediately. Talk to your primary care doctor or call a crisis hotline.
Take these truths about mental illness lies with you.
- Mental illness is not weakness.
- Mental illness is not a lack of faith.
- Mental illness does not make you a danger to others.
I waited over three years from the time that things started to spin out of control until I sought help. Had my friend not busted my door down, that would have been the last night of my life.
Mental illness is an illness. Like any ailment, it requires proper care.
The good news is that life gets better — so much better.
I’m no longer the man I was in 1995, and that’s a good thing. The man I’ve become has helped many others to get the care they need. May this article inspire you to do the same.
Until next time, keep fighting.