For many reasons, mental health disorders are often misunderstood. Some films, books, news reports, and other media have spread misconceptions that have become widely accepted. The harsh care of patients in institutions and harmful treatments of the past also continue to influence views of mental illness. And before science shed light on its origins, everything from the wrath of gods to witchcraft was a potential cause. So, it’s not surprising that some biases persist.
These are the truths behind some of the biggest mental health myths.
1. You’re either mentally ill or mentally healthy.
The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which everyone realizes their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to their communities. Research estimates that few people are mentally healthy throughout their entire lives. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 17 percent of adults are in an optimal state of mental health. It’s not unusual to experience a temporary or long-term mental health issue, such as anxiety, depression, or grief.
2. Medication alone can cure most mental health issues.
Mental illnesses don’t always stem from conditions in the body, so some mental health disorders can’t be treated like physical ailments. Psychological issues, such as stress, may be factors and affect the severity of symptoms. Together with medication, psychotherapy can be effective. Even if someone takes medication alone, they may need to manage how they think, behave and interact with others over time.
3. Mental illness is a sign of weakness.
A mental health disorder isn’t a measure of a person’s mental strength because the cause may be beyond their control. It’s not like a fainting spell that someone can “snap out of” or a case of not trying hard enough. Research has shown that most mental health disorders start from early childhood through early adulthood. The causes include genetic tendencies, brain chemistry, physical conditions, such as a concussion, and life experiences (trauma, abuse). A mental health condition may affect anyone. Seeking help is a sign of strength.
4. Talking about suicide with someone could give them ideas.
If someone has talked about killing themselves or made attempts, discussing suicide with them can help them express their feelings and seek treatment. When a person who is suicidal doesn’t open up, no one will be able to prevent a potential tragedy.
5. People with mental illness are violent and unpredictable.
When we hear about mass killings, we may think the culprits lost their minds and that many people with mental illness are dangerous. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that three to five percent of people with mental illness commit violent acts. Also, those with severe mental health conditions are more than ten times likely to be victims of violent crimes than the general public. Some people with a mental health disorder are more likely to harm themselves than others.
6. You must have a reason to be depressed.
More than just a mood disorder, depression is a medical condition caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Major life events, such as a job loss or a divorce can trigger it, but they don’t cause it. Clinical depression may influence every part of someone’s life and their ability to function. The sufferer can lack control over the condition, which may last for months or years and require medication and therapy to manage.
7. Mental health problems last a lifetime.
Usually, people can’t fully recover from only the most severe mental health disorders, such as schizophrenia and other psychoses. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, between 70 and 90 percent of people experience relief with therapy and medication and can live full lives.
8. Most people who are exposed to trauma will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Not everyone reacts to a traumatic event in the same way. Though someone may experience PTSD or similar conditions, the symptoms must last longer than 30 days to qualify as PTSD under the diagnostic definition of the term. Acute stress disorder (ASD), which shares some of the same signs as PTSD (anxiety, insomnia, excitability) lasts for less time. ASD can be more likely to develop after a stressful life event than PTSD.1
9. Depression is something you can get over on your own.
In a recent Kaiser Permanente poll, more than half of the respondents believed that a personal weakness or failing causes depression.2 Actually, a variety of factors are involved. And someone with depression often needs the help of a therapist and others — they often can’t fully recover alone.
10. Only people with a mental health disorder commit suicide.
People with depression or other mental health disorders can feel suicidal, however, other factors can be the source of suicidal tendencies as well. These factors can include substance use, suffering a terminal illness, intense grief, or facing a prison sentence.
We hope that clearing up these common myths will lead to a better understanding of mental health disorders. People who have a mental illness aren’t “weak,” “damaged” or “broken.” And given that few of us are always mentally healthy, mental health conditions are common. Many people live productive lives with them.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a mental illness, contact us today. We offer tele-mental health and other services. Need help now? Call our 24-hour Crisis Hotline: (518) 483-3261 or (518) 891-5535.