Common Misconceptions About Mental Health and Mental Illness

One out of every five people in the U.S. per year experiences some form of mental illness or mental health issue.

Likewise, one in 25 people experiences a serious mental health disorder like bipolar disorder, major depression or schizophrenia. One in 10 youths goes through a major depressive period. Nevertheless, stigmas and myths about mental health and illness abound, leading people to feel ashamed, avoid treatment and ignore their problems. Ignoring problems often leads to the issue becoming worse.

Suicide is the 10th most common cause of death in the U.S., responsible for over 41,000 lives lost each year. However, most public awareness campaigns about suicide only mention physical factors like obesity or terminal illness without acknowledging the role of mental illness in many suicides. Recognizing the true impact of mental illness on the people suffering from it and demystifying the prevalent myths and misconceptions about it can help save even more lives.

A Person Is Either Mentally Healthy or Ill

People often treat mental illness like having cancer or diabetes. Either you have it or you do not. You are either ill or well, and there is no middle ground.

The truth is far more complex. Mental illness can be experienced like a minor infection or injury. It can appear in one or more places and then vanish, to recur and/or be replaced by other issues elsewhere in the future. There is a spectrum of mental illnesses and their symptoms that can infiltrate your otherwise healthy mental state in any number of ways. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only around 17 percent of American adults have an optimal state of mental health.

Mental Illness Indicates Weakness

All too often, people with mental illnesses are treated as if they are simply not strong enough to be mentally well. If they could only, as people say, “get it together” then they would be fine. If you have a mental illness or mental health issue, then you may be more susceptible to buying into this lie and believing you are too weak to overcome your illness. Remember, mental illness is a genuine illness and individuals should learn how to get mental health treatment for themselves or their loved ones in the same manner that they would see a doctor about a physical ailment.

Mental strength and mental health are not the same, and you can have one without the other. You can be mentally strong and ill at the same time, just like you can be physically strong and have diabetes. You have very little control over whether you have a mental illness. However, you have great control over what you choose to do about it.

Mentally Ill People Are Violent

There are some people who are mentally ill and also have violent tendencies, but not all mentally ill people are violent. The vast majority of mentally ill people, in fact, are nonviolent. According to the American Psychological Association, mental illness is directly related to just 7.5 percent of all crimes. Moreover, mentally ill people are actually 10 times more likely than everyone else to become victims of a violent act.

The fact is, only three to five percent of violent acts are directly attributable to a mental illness. More common reasons why people commit crimes include homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse and poverty.

Mental Health Issues Are Unavoidable

Indeed, certain factors of potential mental illness are completely out of your control, such as heredity or personal trauma. However, there are other factors influencing mental health and illness over which you do have some measure of control. The following are some preventive health care tips you can take to avoid mental health problems and keep the symptoms of unavoidable mental illness at bay:

  • Get plenty of restful sleep on a regular basis.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet.
  • Think positively and avoid negative self-talk.

Mental Health Issues Are Incurable

Some mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, are incurable. Even incurable mental health issues are at least treatable. Moreover, it is possible to recover completely from plenty of mental health problems. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, between 70 and 90 percent of people with a mental illness experience relief of their symptoms through combined medication and therapy treatment. That is regardless of whether mental illness is curable.

There Is Nothing Anyone Else Can Do for a Mentally Ill Person

People often feel helpless when confronted with another person’s mental illness. They do not know how to react or behave. They may want to help the person but do not know how to do so. Sometimes, these people believe there is nothing they can do to help someone with a mental illness.

In fact, there is a lot you can do. One major way you can help someone you care about with a mental illness is to encourage and support that person in seeking treatment. Only 20 percent of adolescents and children and only 44 percent of adults with diagnosable mental illnesses get the treatment they need. Likewise, there is mental health advice for parents of children with mental health concerns about when and how to address these issues.

Another way you can help anyone you know who has a mental illness is to always treat him or her with respect. Refuse to define anyone by his or her illness or diagnosis. Avoid hurtful words like “crazy,” and confront that sort of behavior in others when you encounter it. Finally, make yourself available to that person. Let any mentally ill person in your life know to ask you when he or she needs anything.

Therapy Is Pointless When You Can Just Take Medication

There is no single effective treatment for all mental health issues. Moreover, what works for one person may not be effective for another. The treatment of mental illness is an extremely personalized process, dependent on factors of the individual’s physiology and diagnosis, lifestyle, needs, preferences and resources.

Sometimes therapy and medication are needed. Other times, one method is effective over the other. For that matter, sometimes a doctor may prescribe one mode of treatment for a patient and change it to another at a later time. You cannot replace therapy with medication or vice-versa. You can only use them in the proper proportions that suits your needs most.

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