Did you know that every 1 in 4 adults suffers from a psychiatric or mental disorder, and that 6% of those have a lifelong condition?
The World Mental Health Day is behind us. Its main purpose is to raise awareness about mental health issues and destigmatize the people who have mental disorders. Yes, destigmatize, because there are still parts of this world where mental disorders are shameful and visiting a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist feels like the worst nightmare.
Thanks to several factors, many mental disorders are not taken seriously both by the people experiencing them and the people around them.
For instance, untreated anxiety can become agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations when the person perceives the surroundings as unsafe and not easy to get away from.
This stigma is closely tied with discrimination and discrimination is powered by myths. This is why I have decided to make a list of the most common myths regarding mental illnesses, to shed some light on the truth behind them.
Myth 1: Parents Are the Only Ones Responsible
In most cases, especially if it is a child who has some mental illness, you will hear people saying that it is the parents’ fault. If the parents would have been better, the child would not have these problems. This is our myth number one. In my humble opinion, it’s the one that will be with us for many years to come.
This myth completely ignores nature vs nurture studies that have been conducted in the past decades. How we think and what we feel is a bit more complicated. It cannot be explained by just one factor, our parents. If science does confirm the relationship between nature and nurture, this may cause serious problems.
Myth 2: Mental Illness Affects Very Few People
As I stated at the start of this article, there are a lot of people around the globe who are affected by some type of mental illness. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 1 in 4 of us is going to experience a mental or neurological illness at least once in a lifetime.
It can affect anyone, it affects people of all ages, income and education levels, and it is not something that is specific to a culture or a continent.
Myth 3: Mental Illness is not a “Real” Illness
Don’t confuse mental illnesses with regular ups and downs everyone experiences now and then in their life. The names and description of mental illnesses may have changed over the past years, but the symptoms and their potential severity didn’t.
Keep in mind that these are real health problems that have been recognized long ago and experts have effective treatments. By labeling it as non-real, people are usually expecting it to go away on its own. It is as real as a broken bone. Would you allow someone with a broken bone to avoid seeing a doctor and would you deny him or her any help they might need?
Myth 4: Mental Illness is nothing more than Personal Weakness
It is of great importance to know to tell the difference between personality traits, character flaws and mental illnesses. A personality trait is a characteristic that is distinct to an individual. A character flaw is something that can affect actions, motives and the social interactions of a person. And, it is also a distinctive characteristic. All of these will not prevent a person from function well enough in life.
On the other hand, mental illness is a health condition and it has nothing to do with personal weaknesses. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it involves changes in thinking, emotions or behavior, or any combination of these three. And, a person that suffer from them will usually experience distress or problems functioning in their family, social and work activities. Seeking help and accepting it can only be a sign of strength, not a personal weakness.
Myth 5: Mental Illnesses Make People Dangerous and Violent
The survival instinct has been part of our beings since the beginning. In order to survive, we have to be able to predict violence and quickly react to it so that it can be avoided. Psychologists have been on the quest of identifying predictors of violence, and after a dozen studies, they have come to a conclusion that mental illnesses are not good predictors of violence. They are neither necessary nor sufficient causes of violence. Of course, there will always be isolated cases.
In fact, studies show that there are far more mentally ill people who are victims of violence than the ones committing the violence. The major determinants of violence remain the same throughout the years: socio demographic and economic factors.
Myth 6: People with Mental Illness Should not Work
This one is wrong. Very, very wrong. There are cases all over the planet where governments have specially designed plans in place to help people with mental illness with finding jobs. This includes even the patients with the most severe mental disorders. With modern medications and therapy, almost all the symptoms can be controlled until the person fully recovers from the mental illness.
By denying the people with mental illness a chance to work, we can push them further into isolation and deny them something that can be very helpful in their situation, work therapy.
These are just a few of the myths about mental illness that we as a civilization have so carefully constructed. But to what cause? Did we create something better? What people fail to realize is that covering their eyes before the truth only leads to more problems that further complicate the mental disorder and make the mental battle harder than it should be. This are some difficult questions to answer within the span of a single article, so I suggest that anyone who is interested in broadening their knowledge on this topic go out and do some additional research on their own.