How to spot mental health misinformation
Learn the signs and protect yourself and others
Misinformation is a problem and, in the 21st century it’s spreading faster than ever before. When it comes to misinformation about mental health, the consequences can be dire. Ranging from being unhelpful to unsafe, mental health misinformation can interfere with recovery, put people at risk, and feed into stigma.
Whether you see it online, on social media, or hear it from the people around you, it’s important to learn the signs that what you’re being told might not be accurate. Here, we’re exploring some of the ways that you can spot mental health misinformation.
Is it overly simplistic?
This is usually the first sign that something isn’t right. Mental health is a complicated topic, and each experience will vary from person to person, which means that blanket statements can often be inaccurate.
Be particularly cautious around claims that link to diagnoses. For example, ‘X is a trauma response’. In this example, whatever X may be, it could very well be a trauma response for one person, but not for another.
In the same vein, ‘quick fixes’ are often fictitious. There are many different tools that we can apply to our mental health, such as diet and exercise, or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques, that really can make a difference. But long-term change often happens with long-term support and work over a lifetime.
Ultimately, it can be helpful to return to the question, is it too good to be true? Are the claims too bold, and is the line too simplistic? If so, you might be being given one part of the story, when, really, it’s the rest that makes it make sense.
Who is sharing the information?
It’s always important to consider the source of the information. For example, is it coming from a qualified, accredited individual?
Professional bodies exist to regulate counsellors and psychotherapists, and in order for individuals to join, they must meet a certain set of standards, and abide by a code of ethics.
This is a good place to start when you’re considering the source when it’s coming from an individual, but what about the information you’ve found online?
If you’ve seen something spread online, and you’re not sure about the claim, the first step you can take is to put that claim into Google. Now, if that claim comes up multiple times, it could be a good sign, but don’t stop there. See if you can find the original source. Does it come from a study published in a respected journal, or did it all start somewhere more dubious?
Additionally, there are other signs that you can look out for when searching for reliable information online. For example, has the post been reviewed by an accredited expert? Does it include dates of publication? Are any edits or amendments listed? Does the site have a PIF TICK stamp – a UK quality mark for health information?
Is there a sales push involved?
There are many products out there that can support us with our mental health and wellbeing, and so claims that are linked to a product’s success don’t automatically mark it up as misinformation. However, you should still approach such claims with a degree of caution, and consider a couple of things first.
Firstly, relating back to the first point here, is there a bold quick fix involved? For example, a supplement that is claimed to prevent depression. Or perhaps it’s a course you need to sign up to, that will ‘change your life in 30 days’. The idea of changing one thing about our lives in order to improve it is incredibly tantalising, and marketers know that. Whatever the product might be, there could be some truth to the claims – and they may even be able to support you – but if there’s a quick fix, it’s likely not covering the whole picture.
Additionally, can you substantiate the claims? Are they supported by trusted sources?
Is the information tapping into a bias?
Try to develop a more critical mindset by considering why something might have been written. Has it, for example, been written to tap into a certain bias that you or others might hold? Or, is it trying to progress a certain line or belief?
Are you seeing certain trends, and is this information tuning into that trend in order to spread? Or, is it trying to appeal to a certain person, by picking up on sentiments that might resonate with them?
These days, there’s a wealth of information out there about mental health, and much of it can be incredibly useful and empowering. But, in order to protect yourself from the spread of misinformation, take some time to consider what you’ve found before sharing or implementing it – and, remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it just well might be.
Connect with an accredited mental health professional and find reliable information on the Counselling Directory