Public awareness surrounding issues of mental health has come a long way in the last 50 years.
Organizations like the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) have helped fund research that’s generated knowledge about the biology of mental disorders, which in turn, has lead to advances in diagnoses and treatments.
The very nature of mental illness, however, makes it prone to misunderstandings and confusion not just for those struggling with a particular disorder, but for those who have a friend, family member or, perhaps, a colleague coping with poor mental health.
As research about the causes and treatments of mental illnesses continue, it’s important to reinforce the facts about mental health and debunk the myths.
Here are 7 Common Myths About Mental Health
1. Mental illness is Rare
To say that mental illness is relatively rare and doesn’t happen to relatively healthy people couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact, an estimated 1 in 5 adults in the United States, just under 50 million people, will deal with some form of mental illness in any given year, according to NAMI.
For about 25 million of those people, the symptoms of mental illness will be severe enough that it interferes with their day-to-day activities.
A generation or two ago, this was the prevailing perception around the world and while everyone knew somebody who might have been considered mentally ill, today it is becoming more accepted thanks to awareness campaigns.
By educating the general public about how commonplace it is, it will reduce the stigma and shame so more people can be helped.
2. People With a Mental Illness are Dangerous
Too many people think that people dealing with mental health issues are a danger to society.
Government statistics show the truth is that people living with mental health issues are 10 times more likely to be a victim of violent crime rather than the culprit.
Even though some have suggested that prisons are filled with violent criminals who have a mental illness, this has more to do with the fact that 1 in 5 people have a mental health issue, not that the mental illness caused them to be dangerous.
3. Anxiety and Panic are Imaginary
It’s simply not true that bouts of anxiety and panic are all in a person’s head.
In actuality, anxiety and fear are a normal part of the human existence, but some people experience anxiety and panic attacks that can have severe and debilitating physical symptoms, especially if these issues are left untreated.
Many of the physical symptoms like chest pain, nausea, and increased heart rate are very real and require medical attention to if they persist.
4. People Can Deal With Mental Illness on Their Own
A common fallacy is that a “strong-minded” person should be able to deal with bouts of mental illness without any help.
While lifestyle choices, such as proper nutrition, regular exercise, restful sleep and avoiding drugs and alcohol, can help improve mental health, it is often necessary to seek professional treatment in order to cope with, and overcome the symptoms of poor mental health.
It should never be assumed that exhibiting mental health symptoms is a sign of weakness. Many successful athletes, business professionals, and celebrities have overcome their issues with proper treatment. It can happen to anyone.
5. Mental Health is Only Connected to Genetics
Thinking that genetics is the sole cause of poor mental health is one reason many people don’t seek help or treatment for their condition.
Family history can play a role, but there are other, external stressors, such as past trauma, a sudden loss, or substance addiction that can lead to poor mental health in otherwise healthy people.
Knowing that other factors often contribute to depression or stress instead of just genetics can be encouraging for many to explore treatment options.
6. People Addicted to Drugs and Alcohol Have No Will Power
The notion that people battling addiction have no will power is not only false, it was debunked decades ago.
Like other illnesses, addiction is a chronic and relapsing mental health disease of the brain.
Very often, addiction has caused a chemical imbalance in the brain that makes it impossible for a person to change their behavior without addiction treatment.
Brain scans show that addiction changes the function and structure of the brain, which clearly rules out the possibility that will power has anything to do with it.
7. It Isn’t Possible to Recover From Mental Illness
Because many people think mental illness is not something a person can recover from, they don’t even try to get better or work on overcoming their issues.
Nothing could be farther from the truth! There are more treatment options, better support, and improved strategies for treating mental disorders than ever before.
Many people that struggle with mental health are successful, productive members of their communities.
Numerous celebrities, as well as famous athletes and business people have gone public about their struggles and are living proof that it’s possible to not only recover from mental health disorders, but also to thrive in recovery.
Understanding the myths and facts about mental illness lessens the stigma associated with mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, addiction and other issues.
We all need to do our part to improve public awareness so that those suffering from the painful symptoms of mental health disorders are free to seek the help they deserve without any shame.