Myths About Mental Illness

If you are grappling with mental illness yourself or in your family, but you avoid talking about it or seeking services... you are not alone. The truth is that many people avoid the topic of mental illness and are reluctant to get treatment for their illness. Often this is due to misconceptions they people have about mental illness, which contributes to and leads many people to be ashamed and prevents them from seeking help. Overcoming stigma and the barriers it creates requires accurate information about mental illness.

Here are some common myths about mental illness and the facts that dispel them:

MYTH Mental illness is rare.
FACT: Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. In any given year, more than five million Americans experience an acute episode of mental illness. One in every five families is affected in their lifetime by a severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression.

MYTH: If someone looks or acts odd it means that you need to be concerned about the potential for violence.
FACT: Contrary to media focus, individuals with mental illness are no more prone to violence than the general public, and in fact, are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. The exception is adding the presence of substance abuse, which increases the likelihood of aggressive behaviors (as it does with the general public).

MYTH: Mental illness is the result of bad parenting.
FACT: Most experts agree that a genetic susceptibility, combined with other risk factors, leads to a psychiatric disorder. In other words, mental illnesses have a physical cause.

MYTH: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people who are depressed could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.
FACT: Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function, and medication and/or psychotherapy often help people to recover.

MYTH: Mental illness does not strike the "average person."
FACT: Anyone can potentially develop a mental illness, no matter his or her sex, age, race, or economic status.

MYTH: If you have a mental illness, you can will it away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way "failed" or is weak.
FACT: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.

MYTH: Children do not suffer from mental disorders.
FACT: 12 million children suffer from mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism and Depression.

MYTH: Most people with a mental illness are receiving treatment.
FACT: Only 1 in 5 persons affected with a mental illness seeks treatment.

MYTH: Mental illness is not like other "Physical" diseases.
FACT: Mental illnesses are biologically based brain diseases and can be effectively treated.

MYTH: People with Schizophrenia have split or multiple personalities.
FACT: Schizophrenia is often confused with the very rare illness, multiple personality disorder. Actually, schizophrenia is a brain disorder that robs people of their ability to think clearly and logically. The estimated 2.5 million Americans with schizophrenia have symptoms ranging from social withdrawal to hallucinations and delusions.

MYTH: A person with a mental illness should only work at low stress jobs that require no interpersonal contact.
FACT: While mental illness can cause problems in interpersonal relations, each personís strengths and deficits are different, as are each jobs requirements. (For example, the interpersonal skills needed for a desk clerk at a motel are different than those required for a desk clerk at a five-star hotel.) Rather than broadly generalizing about personal barriers, it is best to help job seekers with mental illness understand their own capabilities and how those capabilities fit into a specific job match.

MYTH: Mentally ill people cannot lead productive lives.
FACT: People with a mental illness who are properly treated with therapy and/or medication can live full, enjoyable and productive lives. In fact some famous people, including Abraham Lincoln, Patty Duke, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Pauley and Earl Campbell have been very successful in their chosen professions.