MYTHS & FACTS: MENTAL / PSYCHIATRIC ILLNESS

Mental illnesses are very common. They are also widely misunderstood. People with mental illnesses are frequently stigmatized by others who think it’s an uncommon condition.

The truth is, mental illness can happen to anybody.
Arm yourself with the facts, then use your knowledge to educate others and reach out to those around you with mental illness. Understanding and support are powerful, and they can make a real difference in the life of a person who needs them.


Myth: There’s no hope for people with mental illnesses.
Fact: There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and more are in the works. People with mental illnesses lead active, productive lives.


Myth: I can’t do anything for a person with mental illness.
Fact: You can do a lot, starting with how you act and speak. You can create an environment that builds on people’s strengths and promotes understanding.

For example: 

  • Don’t label people with words like “crazy,” “wacko,” or “loony” or define them by their diagnosis. Instead of saying someone is “a schizophrenic,” say he or she “has schizophrenia.” Don’t say “a schizophrenic person,” say “a person with schizophrenia.” This is called “people-first” language, and it’s important to make a distinction between the person and the illness.
  • Learn the facts about mental health and share them with others, especially if you hear something that isn’t true.
  • Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity, just as you would anybody else.
  • Respect the rights of people with mental illnesses and don’t discriminate against them when it comes to housing, employment, or education.
  • Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health problems are protected under govt. laws.

Myth: People with mental illnesses are violent and unpredictable.
Fact: Actually, the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are no more violent than anyone else. People with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of crime. You probably know someone with a mental illness and don’t even realize it.


Myth: Mental illnesses don’t affect me.
Fact: Mental illnesses are surprisingly common; they affect almost every family in US. Mental illnesses do not discriminate—they can affect anyone.


Myth: Mental illness is the same as mental retardation.
Fact: These are different conditions. Mental retardation is characterized by limitations in intellectual functioning and difficulties with certain daily living skills. In contrast, people with mental illnesses—health conditions that cause changes in a person’s thinking, mood, and behavior—have varied intellectual functioning, just like the general population.


Myth: Mental illnesses are brought on by a weakness of character.
Fact: Mental illnesses are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors. Social influences, like the loss of a loved one or a job, can also contribute to the development of various mental health problems.


Myth: People with mental illnesses cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job.
Fact: All jobs are stressful to some extent. Anybody is more productive when there’s a good match between the employee’s needs and the working conditions, whether or not the worker has a mental health problem.


Myth: People with mental health needs, even those who have recovered, tend to be second-rate workers.
Fact: Employers who have hired people with mental illnesses report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees. Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) in US show that there are no differences in productivity when people with mental illnesses are compared to other employees.


Myth: Once people develop mental illnesses, they will never recover.
Fact: Studies show that most people with mental illnesses get better, and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. For some individuals, recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life. For others, recovery implies the reduction or complete remission of symptoms. Science has shown that hope plays an integral role in an individual’s recovery.


Myth: Therapy and self-help are a waste of time. Why bother when you can just take a pill?
Fact: Treatment varies depending on the individual. A lot of people work with therapists, counselors, friends, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers during the recovery process. They also use self-help strategies and community supports. Often they combine these with some of the most advanced medications available.


Myth: Children don’t experience mental illnesses. Their actions are just products of bad parenting.
Fact: A study has showed that in any given year five to nine percent of children experience serious emotional disturbances. Just like adult mental illnesses, these are clinically diagnose health conditions that are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors.


Myth: Children misbehave or fail in school just to get attention.
Fact: Behavior problems can be symptoms of emotional, behavioral, or mental problems, rather than merely attention-seeking devices. These children can succeed in school with appropriate understanding, attention, and mental health services.


Myth: There is no hope for people with mental illness.
Fact: There is more support than ever before & people with mental illness can lead an active & productive life.


Myth : Psychiatric disorders are not true illnesses like heart disease or cancer; people who have a mental illness are just “crazy.”
Fact : Unlike a broken leg or heart attack, which are easily detected by simple tests, mental illness has traditionally been an invisible disease. This inability to see what’s wrong may add to the public perception, and even fear, of mental illness. But, like heart disease, mental illnesses are also medical conditions. They involve complex physiological processes, as well as changes or imbalances in brain chemistry.


Myth : All people with schizophrenia are violent.
Fact : Unfortunately, Hollywood movies often portray mentally ill people as dangerous axe-wielding murderers. The reality, he says, is that “very little violence in society is caused by people who are mentally ill.” The most common types of violence – gang fights, domestic abuse, even road-rage – aren’t caused by people with a mental illness such as schizophrenia. “People with a major mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators!”


Myth : Children don’t get depression or other mental illnesses; their emotional problems are just part of growing up.
Fact : Parents naturally want their children to do well, so some may brush off or explain away behavioural problems or other childhood difficulties as being mere growing pains. However, numerous psychiatric conditions, including depression, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders, can and do occur in childhood, according to studies in U.S.,one in every 33 kids and one in every eight teens suffers from depression – and that’s just one disorder.


Myth : Schizophrenia means split personality.
Fact : This belief is way off base. The word schizo comes from ancient Greek and means “split mind.” But people with a split personality have a completely different – and rare – disorder called multiple personality disorder. The misuse of the term “split personality” to refer to people with schizophrenia may have come from misuse in old movies and in the media.

But, the term does apply to people with schizophrenia in that when their disease is at its worst, they live in two worlds. On the one hand, they’re part of the real world; but on the other hand, they may have hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren’t there), delusions (believing things that aren’t real) or paranoia (fear that there is a conspiracy against them or that people are following them) that put them in another – fanciful – world. This is quite different from exhibiting different personalities.

Schizophrenia typically manifests itself in late adolescence or early adulthood. The good news is that there are various treatments that help keep the symptoms of schizophrenia under control. Schizophrenia affects about one in every 100.


Myth : Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower.
Fact : An addiction, whether to drugs or alcohol, is a complex condition that is often chalked up to a lack of self-control on the part of the sufferer. But the problem is not that simple; addictions involve complex factors including genetics (alcoholism, for example, often runs in families), the environment, and sometimes other underlying psychiatric conditions such as depression. When people who become addicted have these underlying vulnerabilities it’s harder for them to simply kick the habit.

In addition, complex chemical brain processes that are part of the brain’s “reward mechanisms” add to the craving of substances. This reward mechanism is largely regulated by the brain chemical dopamine, which can create a feeling of satisfaction and relief once the substance is used. When not using that substance, people with addictions may feel a huge, insatiable craving.

Treating addiction is often a long-term process. It can involve counselling / psychotherapy and medication to treat both the addiction and any other mental illness. There is also the issue of learning how to deal with outside influences (such as friends who encourage use of the addictive substance) that reinforce the addiction. It takes a huge amount of work by, as well as resolve, dedication and time from, the person who is addicted to overcome his or her addiction.

It’s rare that a person can simply stop drinking or kick a drug habit cold turkey, though it can happen. But judging people as weak can make the problem worse by making them feel so bad about themselves that they indulge as a means of escape.


Myth : Electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), also known as shock therapy, is painful and barbaric.
Fact : ECT has been around since 1938, long before drugs such as antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft were developed. As with many therapies, ECT was overused when it was first discovered. Back then, understanding of the best use of the therapy was limited. Now, however, ECT is one of the most effective treatments for people whose depression is so severe that antidepressant medications just don’t do the job and who are debilitated by the depression.

ECT got a bad rap from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which inaccurately portrayed the therapy. For one thing, ECT was used in the film as a form of punishment, not as a treatment. Today patients are anesthetized and their muscles are relaxed before ECT is administered, so that they have no awareness of the treatment and very minimal physical evidence of seizure activity.

Many patients actually request this therapy after other treatments fail. “If Electro shocks to restart the heart are not considered barbaric, so why should ECT be?”.

There is still some debate in the field of psychiatry about possible long-term effects on memory and other cognitive functions in some patients, although most experts say the benefits far outweigh the risks. Researchers continue to refine the best ways to use this treatment.


Myth : People with a mental illness lack intelligence.
Fact : ” This is completely false,” “Intelligence has nothing to do with mental illnesses or brain disorders.” On one hand, many people with mental disorders are brilliant, creative, productive people. On the other hand, some people with mental disorders are not brilliant or creative. Certain mental illnesses may make it difficult for people to remember facts or get along with other people, making it seem like they are cognitively challenged. Overall, the level of intelligence among people with mental illness likely parallels the patterns seen in any healthy population.


Myth : People with a mental illness shouldn’t work because they’ll just drag down the rest of the staff.
Fact : People with mental illness can and do function well in the workplace. They are unlikely to miss any more workdays because of their condition than people with a chronic physical condition such as diabetes or heart disease. Employees may not even be aware that a coworker suffers from a mental illness – proof that mental illness in the workplace may not even be an issue.

However, a stress-riddled workplace may be a breeding ground for the development of stress-related mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety disorders, and threaten the delicate work-life balance. “Stress is probably the most common, most pervasive factor causing depression in society,”. Stress is also associated with increased risk for physical conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

The real problem is the prejudice against hiring people with mental illness. The resulting unemployment leaves them isolated, a situation that can add to their stress, and make it more difficult to recover from the illness.

As individuals and as a society, “we need to interact with others in a much more emotionally aware and understanding fashion”


Myth : Mental illness is a single, rare disorder.
Fact : Anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, addiction disorders, impulse control disorders, sexual and gender disorders…the list goes on. There are multiple types of mental illness, each with its own features and underlying causes. “Saying mental illnesses are all the same is just like saying that all cancers are the same,”. Using the cancer analogy, while in skin, brain and liver cancers cell growth is out of control, the causes of and treatments for these different cancers are all different.

Similarly, each mental illness is a variation on the theme of brain chemistry gone awry, affecting things like mood and perception. But each of these illnesses has its own specific causes, features and approaches to treatment.


Myth : People with a mental illness never get better.
Fact : Treatments for mental illnesses are more numerous and more sophisticated than ever. As well, researchers continue to discover new treatments. Because of these advances, many people do recover from mental illness, and others are able to keep the condition under control. For instance, a person who experiences depression triggered by a family loss can recover fully if the depression is treated.

Indeed, today’s pharmaceutical treatments are better able to target the specific parts of the brain where treatment is needed. While some conditions, such as schizophrenia, might wax and wane in severity throughout a person’s adult life, symptoms can be kept under control with proper treatment.

The treatment goal of a full recovery is not unreachable. That goal involves more than just drugs; it also includes being socially and physically active because recovery means getting people back to leading normal lives.