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9 Damaging Myths about Mental Illness

Thanks to news stories, books, and movies, the terms “mentally ill” and “crazy” can be used interchangeably in the minds of far too many people. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Mental illness encompasses a vast array of disorders including ADHD, depression, and anxiety – the vast majority of which respond very well to proper treatment and are rarely associated with “insanity”.

So if you or someone you love has just been diagnosed with a mental disorder and dread any potential stigma (which is often due to myths), it’s time to arm yourself with the facts. Following are 9 of the most common – and often damaging – myths about mental illness, and the reality behind them:

  1. People with mental illness just need to “get a grip”. This is one of the most common mental health myths that prevents people from getting the help they need. Think of it this way: when you break a bone, chances are good you’re not going to set it yourself and go on with life, hoping it heals correctly. Instead you’ll visit a medical professional with the know-how and tools to help your body recover properly. Doesn’t your mind deserve the same care?
  2. Mental illness has no cure. While there are some disorders that are considered life-long – even with treatment, many can be effectively treated and overcome. People living with a mental disorder, whether it’s anorexia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or even schizophrenia, have far more available and beneficial treatment options today than in years past. A mental health professional will work with you to create an effective treatment plan that typically includes one or more of these options:
    • Therapy: Say therapy and many of us envision lying on a couch talking to a note-taking Freud-type. In fact, there are many different types and modalities of therapy used by professionals to treat mental illness. For example, some individuals will gain the most benefit from a longer-term insight-oriented type of therapy, while others do best with a short-term type of therapy that focuses on solutions. Additionally, one-on-one talk therapy may be best for some individuals, while a group therapy setting might be more appropriate for others. Therapy for a serious, treatment-resistant condition may also involve undergoing a medical procedure such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
    • Medication: Prescription drugs can go a long way towards helping someone with mental illness live a full and normal life. Certain anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, severe depression, and schizophrenia are just some of the conditions that are often treated using a combination of medication and therapy. As with any prescription drugs, psychotropic medications have both limitations and side effects, so they may not be the right choice in some cases.
    • Support Groups: A supportive shoulder and empathetic ear can play an important role in managing mental illness. Support groups, which can be led by a group member or a mental health professional, allow people living with mental illness (and, perhaps, their family or friends) to connect with others who share many of the same struggles and experiences.
  3. Mental illness makes people violent. The vast majority of individuals who suffer from a mental illness are not violent. While a small percentage of people with serious mental illnesses can become violent towards others, the violence that is most often committed is against themselves – in the form of suicide. Experts estimate about 90% of suicide victims have a diagnosable mental illness. The reality is that people with a severe mental disorder are 11 times more likely to be the victim of violence than those without one. [2]
  4. Mental illness is a sign of weakness. Most psychiatric disorders develop, at least in part, to an underlying genetic predisposition and / or a chemical imbalance within the brain. Others are the result of a traumatic event such as being raped or living through a natural disaster. Regardless of the origin, mental illness is a genuine health problem that requires professional medical attention. Just as you can’t beat cancer by simply “being strong,” you can’t beat mental illness through the power of your will or by ignoring the problem.
  5. If I have a mental illness, I’ll never be able to hold a job. Living with an untreated mental condition can definitely make it very difficult to go about daily activities, including holding a job. With proper treatment, however, most people who have a mental illness can and do go to work every day. The key to living a normal life is to recognize the problem and then tap the resources that help you manage or overcome it.
  6. Real mental disorders are rare. Chances are good that you already know someone with a mental illness. It could be the girl who sits next to you at school, your neighbor across the street, or your coworker just down the hall. These disorders affect nearly 58 million Americans every year, which means approximately 1 in every 4 adults has struggled with mental illness in the past 12 months. Mental illness knows no boundaries; it can strike family members, friends, and co-workers – and you may not even know it.
  7. My family doctor can just prescribe a drug to make me feel better. Popping a pill seems like a simple way to cure anything. But medication is often only one part of managing mental illness, and in many cases medication is not the primary form of treatment. Becoming healthy often involves a combination of treatments that may – or may not – include prescription drugs.
  8. Bad parenting triggers mental illness. Childhood experience is just one of the many factors that may contribute to a psychiatric disorder. Genetics, biology, and environmental influences almost always play a role in whether a person develops a mental illness. In fact, most experts agree that a person’s mental condition is often the result of many factors coming together.
  9. Mental illnesses are all alike…crazy is crazy. This is one of the most harmful myths about mental illness. As mentioned above, the term mental illness describes a dizzying range of disorders that affects many different people in many different ways. Those with mental illness might have one of dozens of disorders, from ADHD to bipolar disorder. Some people have obvious symptoms, while others are much more subtle. Still others are affected by only one episode during their lifetime while some live with their illness for decades. For some, the illness is debilitating, while others are able to live a highly productive life both during and after treatment.

Mental illness does not equal crazy. In fact, many who live with these disorders learn to manage their symptoms and go on with life. Others will even recover completely. Don’t let myths about mental illness prevent you or a loved one from getting the treatment you need and deserve. If you suspect you’re battling a mental disorder, set up an appointment for an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. The sooner you take action, the sooner you can get back to living your life as fully as possible.

There is still hope.

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