May is all about setting the record straight. Across conditions there are countless myths, misconceptions, and stigma. Where do these myths come from you might ask? In the end they stem from a lack of education, and the fact that sometimes it’s easier to accept the myth then look for the real answer, or try to understand the truth or the science behind a condition. Yesterday’s chat focused on the first step to combatting myths both on and offline: defining and recognizing these myths and their origins.
What is a myth?
A myth is a popular un-truth. Something commonly believed as true but in actuality is false. The problem with myths is that they aren’t easy to correct. @enBloomMedia: T1. Myths R steeped in misconceptions; once learned, they are very hard to unlearn even w/ proof. #HAchat #HAchat
Where do myths come from and how do they spread?
Myths essentially stem from lack of education and misinformation. Remember the telephone game? You whisper a message in someone’s ear, and then they whisper it to someone else, and then to someone else, and by the time you get to the last person it’s a completely different message! Information around health issues is no different, but there is an added layer of complexity around why health myths gain so much traction. One reason is that people are scared of illness. People want to believe that illness, no matter its form, cannot happen to them, and are willing to believe myths that exempt them from risk. Take HIV for example. Back when HIV was just beginning to impact the United States, there were rumors flying from all sides about the origins of the disease, but gays and Haitians took most of the blame. Many still label HIV as a “gay disease,” and Haiti still suffers from the economic blow that accompanied the end of US tourism on the island. People wanted to believe that only gay men could get HIV so that they themselves didn’t feel that they were at risk, and so they didn’t have to change their behavior.
The media is also a huge perpetuator of myths. Myths are often more “interesting” than the truth, and the sensationalizing of myths makes them spread more quickly. This doesn’t just happen on the news, but on popular TV shows as well.
In some ways, even patients can perpetuate myths. TiffanyAndLupus: Myths can spread like wildfire due to misinformation based on hearsay. Theyre spread by all; patients & healthcare professionals #hachat. Everyone is looking for a diagnosis, to put a name to their symptoms that they can be treated and so that you can move on. For many, the road to diagnosis is a long one, and desperation can set in: julianna12369: we would much rather hear a wild excuse for something than “I don’t know”, so the wild excuse becomes the myth. #HAchat. Along the same lines, everyone wants to hope. You want to believe that rumor you heard about a new drug or a new procedure that will help you or someone you love. k8lin @Dyverse_Steele I think a lot of myths can also be hope-based – we desperately want there to be a cure for HIV/AIDS and cancer #hachat.
The BIGGEST myths across health conditions!
Health Activists pointed out myths in their various conditions, and we saw several big themes emerge. Here is a list of the most common themes across health conditions and some quotes from Health Activists about how these myths affect them.
But you don’t look sick
You must have done something to deserve your illness
Dyverse_Steele that if you have hiv you must be promisicous
You’re exaggerating; the pain can’t be that bad. You’re just looking for drugs.
People with chronic illness are lazy and don’t want to work
It’s all in your head.
What worked for me will work for you.
Only men/women/children/the elderly get that disease.
Rare diseases are rare.
It’s all in your head (Part 2 – Depression and Mental Illness).
Patient communities aren’t legitimate.
How do we fight myths?
We fight myths by debunking the biggest myth about patient communities: TiffanyAndLupus That our patient voices don’t have value or the power to help. #hachat. Being your awesome Health Activist selves is helping to debunk this myth and all of the others that we’ve listed here. mylifelineorg : Having a personal website to share the correct information can help mitigate the spread of misinformation! #HAchat. Keep blogging, tweeting, advocating, spread the word, tell your story, hold yourself and your writing accountable and to the highest standard, speak out and correct myths when you encounter them on and offline.
What are you doing debunk myths and combat stigma in your online community? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your thoughts and your efforts with us! Be sure to join us next week for a special #HAchat in honor of National Mental Health Month where we will discuss the intersection between your condition and mental health. Tuesday at 3 PM EST.