“Am I Faking My Mental Illness?” How To Tell What’s Real

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Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you if you are doubting the validity of your mental illness. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

Mental illness adds many complications to life. It affects your personal relationships, work, ability to keep up with your housework, and self-care.

And, yes, it can certainly make you doubt yourself.

Some people have a hard time understanding or seeing their mental illness. Am I faking depression? Am I faking anxiety? Am I doing this all for attention? Is what I’m experiencing valid?

Many people fall into the trap of questioning whether or not they are faking their mental illness.

Thankfully, there is a simple, black-and-white answer to this question:

No. You’re not.

People who are faking their problems are making an active choice to be manipulative. They formulate a plan about faking a mental illness and then choose to claim they have it or act in a way that makes other people think they have a mental illness. There’s no gray area. They don’t wonder if they are faking it because they already know they are faking.

What you are likely experiencing is “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome happens when you feel that something that affects you may not be true or reflect reality well. It’s most often used in the context of accomplishment. For example, “I landed this great job, but I don’t deserve it. I’m not qualified for it, and when they figure that out, they will fire me.” Some people will struggle with imposter syndrome for years.

Mental illness is much the same way. It’s easy to think that you may not have mental health problems if you have people telling you you’re fine. You may also compare your mental health problems to those more severe and minimize your own struggles. These perceptions can make you question whether or not you are mentally ill.

But there are ways that you can make these feelings smaller so you can stay on the right track with treating and overcoming them.

1. Don’t listen to people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

Everyone has an opinion, and many are ill-informed or outright stupid. Unfortunately, far too many people don’t take the time to actually understand whatever it is they are taking a strong stand on. So, for example…

Mila has been diagnosed with depression. She goes and tells her mother, looking for some support and understanding. But Mila’s mom doesn’t believe in mental illness! She doesn’t believe in depression! Mom tells Mila she needs to suck it up because life is hard, and that’s just how it is. Life is hard for everyone, and everyone feels miserable about it. And frankly, with the way mom goes on about it and as miserable as she is, she may be depressed and can’t see that life isn’t supposed to be that way.

Mom has her opinion. On the other hand, depression isn’t an unusual mental health problem at all. It affects something like 5% of the entire population of the world. It’s not some rare thing that is controversial among the tens of thousands of medical professionals. Plenty have studied it, looked for ways to help people suffering from it, and tried to apply peer-reviewed treatment methods.

Mila’s mom is uninformed and doesn’t know what she’s talking about. But Mila’s mom loves her, and Mila loves her mom, so it would be easy for Mila to accept that opinion and internalize it.

2. Don’t compare your mental health struggles to anyone else.

The interesting thing about mental illness is that it is different for everyone. Everyone has a slightly different experience because everyone is different. You could take a dozen people with the same diagnosis, stick them all in a room to discuss it, and get twelve different perspectives on their mental health struggles.

One way that people denigrate their experiences is by comparing their experiences to others. What they are doing is looking for validation through social proof. That way, they can say, “Yes, I do indeed have this problem because it is as serious as Brian’s.”

This is a wrong, harmful approach. Not everyone is severely mentally ill. Some people are mild, other people are not. Some people only experience intermittent struggles; other people struggle often. Some people respond immediately to treatment; others don’t.

Mental illness isn’t a competition despite the best efforts of some people to make it one. Mark may be looking at the struggles of his friend Brian and telling himself, “I’m not as bad as Brian, so I must not be mentally ill. Therefore, I must be faking it, or it’s not as important.” And that just isn’t true.

Instead of comparing your experience to someone else, look at how it affects your life. A quirk becomes a symptom when it negatively affects your ability to conduct your life. Do you feel too overwhelmed to go to a grocery store? You need to eat. That’s a symptom. Are you sleeping twelve hours a day, still feeling tired, and can’t seem to get anything done? That’s a symptom. You need to be able to conduct your life.

Take some time to consider what’s going on in your mind and how it affects your life, personal relationships, ability to work, ability to care for yourself, and ability to care for your home. These are the kinds of issues that mental health professionals look for.

3. It’s normal for mentally ill people to devalue their experience.

The simple act of devaluing your own experiences may also point to their validity. It is incredibly common for people with mental illnesses to underestimate or downplay their experiences. That can be a symptom of anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses that can affect your self-perception.

That’s another reason it is so valuable to look at what you experience through a lens of objectivity. Relying on emotions to validate your experience typically doesn’t work because your mental illness may affect your emotions. So, if you’re depressed, it’s much harder for you to be kind, understanding, and supportive of yourself. It’s much harder to practice self-love and self-validate your own struggles.

4. Consider how your culture affects your perception of mental illness.

Simply put, there are a lot of cultures that are not kind or understanding to the mentally ill. And because they are not kind or understanding to the mentally ill, the people in those cultures are more likely to develop negative feelings about mental illness. People, in this context, may include you.

Your perception of mental illness may be skewed heavily because you’ve been surrounded by an entire culture that invalidates your experiences.

Again, you want to examine the problem from a place of objectivity instead of opinion. How do your problems affect your ability to conduct your life? Is it interfering in such a way that it is causing you distress or complicating otherwise basic actions?

Keep in mind that just because many people believe something doesn’t mean that the thing is true. Unfortunately, in the context of mental illness, far too many cultures have group beliefs that it is a matter of mental weakness or willpower instead of a medical problem that needs to be addressed.

5. Convincing yourself you are faking your mental illness may be self-harm.

There are many struggles that people can have with their perception of self, what they deserve, and how they deserve to feel. Self-harm is a complicated subject because it can have so many different faces.

Sometimes it’s physically causing injury to yourself. That’s what most people think of when they think of self-harm. But self-harm isn’t limited to physical harm.

Some people may engage in a shallow, promiscuous lifestyle. They don’t feel worthy of love and devotion, so they essentially punish themselves by limiting themselves to disposable relationships that require little work and no emotional investment.

Others may self-sabotage their progress to punish themselves for some irrational slight or belief. For example, they may believe they aren’t good enough, so they don’t deserve good things, so they take actions that will unmake the good things in their life. That may include things like purposefully messing up at work, causing fights in relationships, cheating, or even avoiding important deadlines. For example, knowing you need to apply for financial aid for college and missing the deadline on purpose.

Minimizing and devaluing your negative experiences with mental health may be another form of self-harm. In minimizing your issues so you can continue to suffer from them, you can convince yourself that they were never valid in the first place. You may even convince yourself that you were just faking your depression or anxiety for attention.

6. Avoid judging whether or not other people may be faking their mental illness.

Not quite on topic, but still related: avoid judging other people on whether or not they are faking their mental illness. Unfortunately, there are some common trends on social media for lonely people looking for validation and approval to make wildly questionable claims about their mental health on camera. They record themselves having breakdowns, claim that their quirks are severe symptoms they don’t understand, and otherwise fish for attention by saying, “Look at me! Look at how much I suffer!”

And while this is annoying and probably stigmatizing, it’s best to avoid judging what you think may or may not be a “real” mental illness. Not only can that negatively affect people who genuinely need kindness and understanding, but it can also cause you to question and invalidate your own experiences.

How?

Well, consider someone putting their mental illness all over social media. They’re making videos, hundreds of people telling them they are brave and strong for what they deal with. They generally receive positive attention for their actions.

But how often is that the reality for the mentally ill? Many mentally ill people suffer in silence, behind closed doors, and feel alone and isolated. They may not feel their struggles are valid because they aren’t getting the same validation as those putting everything on social media.

Many people blasting their mental health out don’t realize that the world still isn’t all that kind or understanding to the mentally ill. People treat you differently. They may think less of you or minimize your emotions. They ask you, “Did you take your medication today?” when you have any kind of negative emotion. And even worse, some predators will look for vulnerable, mentally ill people to take advantage of.

Avoid comparing yourself and your struggles to these people. They may or may not have a mental illness. The truth is that people are generally terrible at interpreting what another person is going through. Even mental health professionals have a difficult time with it.

In closing…

People lying about their mental illness tend to know that they are lying. They know they are making up a story and trying to pass it off as truth. If you doubt what you’re experiencing, you’re not faking your struggles. It’s normal for mentally ill people to believe they don’t have a problem or feel imposter syndrome about their experiences.

But your experiences are real and valid.

Do consider talking to a mental health professional about what you are experiencing. They will be able to help you understand yourself, provide perspective and validation, and hopefully help you find a way to accept your experiences so you can progress toward a healthy life.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

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