Myths and Misconceptions about Mental Illness

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There are several myths and misconceptions about mental illnesses. We will discuss a few helping you clear your concepts regarding them:

Myth 1:

Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just “crazy“

Psychiatric disorders, like heart disease and diabetes, are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.

Myth 2:

People with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.

Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people who have a brain disorder is not much higher than it is in the general population.
Those suffering from a psychosis such as schizophrenia are more often frightened, confused than violent.

Myth 3:

Mental illness is the result of bad parenting.

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 4:

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.

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 5:

Schizophrenia means split personality, and there is no way to control it.

Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that robs people of their ability to think clearly and logically. Medication has helped many of these individuals to lead fulfilling, productive lives.

Myth 6:

Depression is a normal part of the aging process.

Signs of depression in older people include a loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances and lethargy.
Depression in the elderly is often undiagnosed, and it is important for seniors and their family members to recognize the problem and seek professional help

Myth 7:

Depression and other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, do not affect children or adolescents. Any problems they have are just a part of growing up.

Worldwide, one in ten children and adolescents has a mental disorder severe enough to cause impairment.
Only about 20 percent of these children receive needed treatment. Left untreated, these problems can get worse.
Anyone talking about suicide should be taken very seriously

Myth 8:

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.

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 9:

Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower. People with a substance abuse problem are morally weak or “bad”

Addiction is a disease that generally results from changes in brain chemistry. It has nothing to do with being a “bad” person.

Myth 10:

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as “shock treatment,” is painful and barbaric

ECT has given a new life to millions of people who suffer from severe and debilitating depression.
It is used when other treatments such as psychotherapy or medication fail or cannot be used.
Patients who receive ECT are under anesthesia, so they do not feel anything

Myth 11:

Mental health problems only happen to other people

1 in 4 of the adult population will suffer from mental health problems in any one year, and one in six experiences this at any given time. National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report (2001).
It is estimated that approximately 450 million people worldwide have a mental health problem – World Health Organisation (2001)

Myth 12:

People with mental illness are poor and/or less intelligent

Mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income level.

Celebrities such as Winston Churchill Princess Diana, Michel Jackson, Brooke Shields, Stephen Fry, Nick Drake, Paula Yates, Kurt Cobain, Virginia Woolfe, have all experienced mental illness.

Myth 13:

People who self-harm are attention-seekers

This is untrue.
Most people who self-harm do it in secret and it’s only when they need to seek medical attention, that they come to the attention of others

Myth 14:

People with poor mental health are weird

Everyone suffers from low mood. 1 in 4 of the population will experience mental ill health at some point in their lives.

Myth 15:

Mental illness is caused by emotional weakness

People do not choose to become mentally ill. As with other medical conditions, like heart disease or diabetes, it has nothing to do with being weak or lacking will-power

Myth 16:

Once you’ve had a mental illness, you never recover

Majority of people recover from mental illness. Medications, psychological interventions, a strong support network and alternative therapy treatments from cognitive behavioral therapy to improved diet and exercise habits are also very effective in leading to a complete recovery.

Myth 17:

All people who suffer from depression are suicidal

Suicide is not a mental illness. Not everyone who is depressed will consider suicide.
However it is true to say that individuals experiencing a mental health problem are, generally, associated with a higher risk of suicide. If you suspect someone is feeling suicidal ask them – it could help save their lives.

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The writer enjoys medical education and has special interest in community medicine.