Common Misconceptions About Mental Health and Mental Illness

There are a lot of misconceptions about mental health and mental illness, such as that mental illness is rare or only occurs in individuals that are weak or flawed in some way.

You may believe that a large number of mentally ill individuals are dangerous or that nothing can be done for a loved one that is afflicted by a mental illness. These are all false statements that can lead to further misunderstanding about mental health and the illnesses that afflict one in five Americans at some point in their life. By educating yourself on mental health, you can learn to maintain your health and know how and when you should seek treatment. While mental health problems are common, treatment is available and often times have high success rates. To learn more about the many common misconceptions regarding mental health and mental illnesses, review the information that has been provided in the sections below.

Mental Health Problems are Rare

Mental health problems may be far more common than you think. You likely know someone that is experiencing a mental illness and may not even know it. It is estimated that one in five adults will experience a mental health illness within their lifetime. Of that amount, one in 10 youths will experience a period of major depression and one in 25 Americans currently live with a serious mental disorder such as bipolar disorder, major depression or schizophrenia.

In fact, suicide is currently the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and has accounted for the loss of over 41,000 lives each year. This number is terrifying, as that is double the amount of people in the United States who lose their lives to homicide each year.

Children Do Not Experience Mental Health Problems

While this is a common misconception, there is no evidence that supports this theory. Quite the contrary, it is estimated that half of all mental health disorders will first show symptoms before an individual turns 14 years of age. While mental health problems can arise in older adults, three-quarters of mental health illnesses begin before 24 years of age. Early warning signs for children, adolescents and young adults may arise in the same way that they can for an older adult. Early-onset mental illness is especially prevalent in children who experience extreme stress or trauma, which may not manifest until years later.

Mental Health Sufferers are Unpredictable and Violent

Most individuals who experience mental illness are not more violent or dangerous than any other person. In fact, it is estimated that only three to five percent of violent acts are committed by individuals who live with a serious mental illness. While those afflicted with mental illness are generally not the perpetrators of crimes, they are 10 times more likely to the victims of violent crime than those who are not afflicted by a mental illness. Individuals experiencing mental illness such as a mood disorder or an anxiety disorder may be more of a risk to themselves than to others.

Mental Health Sufferers Cannot Hold Down a Job

There are many people afflicted with a mental illness who are just as productive as other employees, especially when the individual is receiving effective treatment. There is no supporting evidence that employees who are mentally ill cannot hold down jobs when seeking treatment. In fact, studies show that employers who offer health plans that include great mental health coverage and benefits often have more productive employees with fewer absences.

Character Flaws are the Root Cause of Mental Health Problems

A common myth regarding mental health and mental illness is that those who are mentally ill are either weak or have some character flaw that is causing their illness. This myth allows people to believe that an individual can get better if he or she wants to badly enough. This is simply not true, as mental health problems have never had anything to do with being weak, lazy or flawed. There are a variety of factors that contribute to mental health illnesses, including:

  • Life experiences, such as abuse or trauma.
  • A family’s history of mental illness.
  • Biological factors that are beyond a person’s control, such as injury, genetics, physical illness and brain chemistry.

Once a Mental Illness Develops, a Person Cannot Recover

Not every mental health illness is curable. Disorders such as schizophrenia will never go away but they are treatable, reducing the symptoms of complex disorders. However, most mental illnesses can be cured or treated to a point of where the illness does not affect the individual’s daily life. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has found that between 70 and 90 percent of individuals who are experiencing mental illness can experience relief with a combination of therapy and medication. Most mental health issues can be completely cured and the individuals that were afflicted by them can make a full recovery. There are currently more services, treatment options and community support systems than there have ever been before.

Treatments can be as simple as counseling through talk therapy or finding the prescribed medication to combat the ailment. For instance, many veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder find that group counseling with other former military members beneficial as they assimilate back into civilian life following active duty during wartime. Likewise, some individuals with a disposition for depression lead active lives by taking anti-depression medication prescribed by their doctor.

You Cannot Do Anything to Help A Person with a Mental Health Problem

The myth that you cannot do anything to help a loved one who is suffering from a mental illness is one of the easiest disproven myths, as there are a variety of studies that suggest otherwise. Family ties and strong bonds can not only aid a sufferer in their recovery, but it can influence an individual to seek treatment. It is estimated that only 44 percent of adults and less than 20 percent of children and teens receive the treatment that they need for mental health illnesses. By reaching out to your loved ones and letting them know you want to help, treating that loved one with respect and aiding them in accessing mental health services, you can help your loved ones receive successful treatment.

Prevention Does Not Work When it Comes to Mental Illnesses

While genetics play a large role in certain mental health illnesses, prevention can be key when known risk factors are present, such as exposure to trauma or abuse. Addressing trauma or abuse proactively can prevent mental illnesses from arising or worsening. Mental health awareness and the willingness to seek help can promote the social well-being of adults, youths and young children.

If a Mentally Ill Individual Attempts Suicide, Then It Is a Cry for Help

Sufferers of mental illness do sometimes become suicidal, but suicidal attempts are not generally cries for help or for attention. Mentally ill individuals generally attempt suicide after actual cries for help went unnoticed, were not acknowledged or just were not taken seriously. A failed suicide attempt is a serious and urgent sign of mental illness where immediate intervention will be required.

If You Feel Better, Then You Must be Cured

It is commonly believed that if you begin to feel better, then you must be cured. This is a dangerous misconception that can lead patients to stop treatment prematurely and relapse, sometimes winding up in a state that was worse than the one they were in before. The relief that comes with treatment is due to your treatment plan, but it does not mean that you are yet “cured.” You must continue your treatment, even after that initial relief.

Mental health illnesses may require treatment for a short amount of time or long amount of time, but you should always consult with your mental health care provider prior to changing or ending a treatment. If part of your treatment includes medication, then your care provider will likely ween you off of your prescription towards the end of your treatment. You should never stop taking a medication without your doctor’s consent, even if you begin to feel better.

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