There are a lot of misconceptions that exist surrounding mental illness. These myths can keep us from talking about mental health or, even worse, stop people from asking for help or seeking treatment. Today, I want to talk about some of the most common misconceptions about mental health and explore the truth behind the myths.
- Mental health problems would never affect me.
Mental health problems are, actually, quite common. In the United States, about 1 in 5 people per year experience a mental health issue and since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the number of adults experiencing depression has tripled. Even if you personally are not one of those people, you probably know and care about someone affected by mental health issues. It’s important to educate yourself about mental illness so you’re ready to help yourself or another person who needs assistance.
- People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.
This is a very dangerous myth, one that has often been perpetuated by the media. The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Only 3%–5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.
- Mental health challenges are a sign of personality flaws or weakness. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
This statement has no more truth than if we said a physical injury or illness is a sign of weakness. We don’t call someone “weak” if they break their arm or have cancer, and a mental health diagnosis is no different. Factors that contribute to a person’s likelihood to develop a mental health disorder include biological factors like genetics, traumatic injury, or brain chemistry; life experiences, such as emotional trauma or a history of abuse; or a family history of mental health problems.
- Those living with a mental health disorder or challenge are unable to work.
A person living with a mental health disorder can still work and be productive. They may need to take time off, or work with certain accommodations, but can perform just as well as those without a mental health disorder. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees.
- There is no hope for people with mental health problems. Once a friend or family member develops mental health problems, he or she will never recover.
Studies show that people with mental health problems can get better and many recover completely. Recovery can mean different things to different people, but generally a person feels like they’ve recovered when they can live, work, learn, and participate fully in their community. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.
- Psychiatric medications are bad. Alternatively, psychiatric meds are “an easy way out” for those with mental illness to avoid dealing with their problems.
Just like any other detrimental medical condition, mental illness is still an illness. For many with mental illness, medication is necessary, just like it would be for a diabetic taking insulin. For some individuals with mental illness, medication is needed for survival. For others, like those who have mild to moderate depression, anxiety, or ADHD, medication can help ease symptoms, so they can function normally.
- I can’t do anything for a person with a mental health problem.
Friends and loved ones can make a big difference. Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment. Friends and family can be essential influences in helping someone to get the treatment and services they need.
Next week, I hope you’ll join us again as we talk specifically about different ways you can help someone you know who has a mental health problem.
If you’re struggling with your own mental health right now, please reach out to someone who cares for you or call (607) 737-5369 for 24/7 community mental health crisis service.
Steele Memorial Library