Mental health impacts our ability to function on a daily basis. It impacts the way we feel, think and behave. With a healthy mental state, we can develop and maintain relationships, contribute to our community, fulfill obligations and cope with life stressors. In the presence of a mental disorder, our social, emotional and psychological well-being is impacted.
Generally speaking, as a society, we don’t recognize the number of people affected by mental conditions and just how much it influences their daily lives. It’s estimated that of individuals with a mental condition, only half seek treatment in the form of inpatient and outpatient treatment or prescription medication.
Unbeknownst to many, there are several challenges when it comes to mental disorders. It’s important to recognize the signs and intervene or seek assistance immediately. Some of the common symptoms of mental conditions include:
- Feelings of anxiety
- Fixation on fears
- Withdrawal from society and activities
- Mood changes
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Suicide ideation
- Increased substance use
Unfortunately, people with mental disorders struggle not only from the symptoms and limitations of their disorder but also from the stereotypes that are associated with mental illness. It doesn’t help that society willingly accepts and adopts the perception of mental illness that is portrayed in media outlets. Furthermore, the stigma that comes with mental disorders leads to discrimination and prejudice that contributes to the decrease in quality of life for individuals with these mental conditions.
What is most troubling is that the stigmas pertaining to mental illness are prevalent in our culture. The reality is that most of these stereotypes are inaccurate representations of mental illness that plague the mental health community. Ultimately, society’s perception significantly impacts how people with mental illnesses are treated and cared for. It’s important to educate ourselves with the facts about mental illness so that more individuals can seek and receive the appropriate treatment and services without shame.
The Most Common Beliefs About Mental Health
Myth: All people with mental disorders are the same.
Fact: One of the biggest myths is that a mental disorder is a singular condition. All mental illnesses are often categorized under the same umbrella. There is a broad range of conditions that can affect mood, behavior, feelings, perception or thinking. Each disorder has its own criteria, symptoms, severity level and treatment plans. Mental disorders look different for every individual. Two people with the same diagnosis would not have the exact same experiences. Some of the common mental disorders include:
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Addiction disorders
- Eating disorders
- Psychotic disorders
- Personality disorders
- Gender disorders
- Impulsive control disorders
- Dissociative disorders
Myth: It’s easy to identify someone with a mental disorder.
Fact: People with mental disorders may have similar behavior and characteristics. We have all encountered individuals with mental conditions, but chances are that, in most cases, we did not identify it. Mental illnesses are not always visible and can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender or socioeconomic status. While there are some conditions that greatly impact an individual’s ability to function and socialize, many conditions go unnoticed.
For example, bipolar disorder is a shift of extreme highs and lows. Since symptoms move in phases, we may not be able to identify the diagnosis by their present behavior. We never know when an individual is battling a mental disorder. Therefore, it’s important not to assume or judge too quickly.
Myth: Mental conditions are rare.
Fact: Mental illness is more common than many people think. In the United States, 1 in every 5 adults is affected by mental illness annually. Mental disorders are more prevalent than other illnesses such as diabetes or cancer. Unfortunately, many people living with mental illness fail to seek professional help. Therefore, the condition goes undiagnosed and untreated.
Part of the blame is due to society’s perception of mental illnesses. Seeking treatment is often considered taboo. If mental illness is suspected, seeking appropriate treatment should be encouraged.
The Face of Mental Health
Myth: People with mental conditions are unpredictable and violent.
Fact: One of the most believed myths is that people with mental disorders are dangerous. Television and movies often portray people with mental illness as dangerous perpetrators who are subsequently institutionalized and isolated from society. In the news media, the link between violence and mental illness is often highlighted.
In reality, most people with mental conditions are not violent. Only 3 to 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by individuals with severe mental illnesses. In fact, people with mental disorders are more likely than the general population to be victims of violent crimes.
Myth: People with mental disorders are in control of their disorder.
Fact: There is no aspect of mental illness that is controllable or a matter of choice. Mental disorders are not just what is seen externally. This health condition alters the chemistry and functioning of the brain, impacting various aspects of an individual’s life. There are many factors that can contribute to mental illness including:
- Biological factors
- Life Experiences
- Social isolation
- Family history
People with mental disorders are often blamed and held responsible for their behavior. The only way to control a mental health disorder is through a support system and professional treatment.
Myth: People with mental conditions are intellectually challenged.
Fact: Intellect and mental disorders are not related. An individual with a mental condition could be highly functioning and productive. On the other hand, someone with a mental illness may not be socially inclined and may appear to be intellectually challenged. Generally speaking, cognitive ability is not dictated by mental health status. The intellect levels among people with mental conditions would not differ much from the general population.
Myth: Most people with mental health conditions are homeless or institutionalized.
Fact: Among the people living with mental health disorders, most are living normal, productive lives. Just as someone who is hospitalized for a general health condition, those who are briefly admitted to a mental health facility are treated and released.
Individuals with mental disorders can become homeless for various reasons. One-third of the homeless population includes people with untreated mental disorders.
Understanding Mental Illness and the Cause
Myth: Mental health conditions are not prevalent in children.
Fact: Approximately half of all mental disorders develop by 14 years old. Often, changes in behavior or personality in children are an indication of a mental health condition.
Another myth regarding children and mental health is that inadequate parenting is the cause. An individual’s mental health is influenced by both environmental and biological factors. Therefore, one’s parenting style isn’t necessarily a direct or isolated cause of a mental disorder. However, it’s possible for an individual’s experiences to exacerbate or trigger existing symptoms. Whether a child is raised in a positive or negative environment will likely impact them psychologically, emotionally, socially and cognitively.
Myth: Mental disorders are not actual medical issues.
Fact: As with health conditions that affect us physically, mental disorders can improve or worsen depending upon treatment and management. For severe mental conditions, treatment could be far more unpredictable than with physical health issues.
Since we are able to see physical medical issues, we are often more sympathetic to the associated limitations and challenges. Although we are not always able to see the effects of mental disorders, we should know that they are just as detrimental to one’s quality of life.
Myth: Addiction is not considered a mental disorder.
Fact: According to the American Psychiatric Association, addiction and substance use disorders are considered a disease of the brain. A substance use disorder affects behavior and the ability to function by altering the brain’s chemistry.
In more complex cases, the existence of a substance use disorder in conjunction with another mental disorder is known as comorbidity. Rather than seeking professional treatment, many people choose to self-medicate with the use of drugs or alcohol. The use of substances temporarily relieves symptoms of the mental condition. However, the long-term effects can be harmful. The use of substances can exacerbate symptoms, and the effects of symptoms could yield increased substance use. It’s a dangerous cycle.
Treatment and Society’s Role in Mental Health
Myth: People with mental health conditions are incapable of being productive members of society.
Fact: Individuals with mental conditions are active members of our community. We encounter them at work, in school and at local stores. The presence of a mental health condition does not suggest that an individual is incompetent. With the right treatment and support, they are capable of fulfilling their duties and responsibilities like the rest of society. The issue is less about their ability to be productive and more about how the perception of mental illness results in prejudice and discrimination when accepting these individuals into society.
Myth: Recovery is unlikely for people with mental conditions.
Fact: Recovery for a mental health condition is possible although it can be a long process. The combination of education about the condition, effective treatment and management, a network of support and the maintenance of one’s well-being in other aspects can help in long-term recovery.
The increase in mental services and treatments makes it possible for individuals to receive the help they need. Ongoing research and advances in medicine make treatment options and outcomes more favorable. In some cases, symptoms are not always completely resolved. However, the right plan will ensure that the individual has the best chance of living a full-functioning and healthy life.
Myth: The absence of symptoms means the individual is cured.
Fact: While there are certainly ways to manage symptoms, feeling better is not an indication that an individual has been cured of their disorder. As with any chronic illness, ongoing and consistent treatment is necessary for sustaining one’s well-being. The same is true for mental health conditions. These individuals work closely with their health care provider to ensure that their treatment plan is helping with their symptoms.
It’s also important to note that intermittent symptoms are common with mental illnesses. Depending on the specific disorder, symptoms could be triggered by environmental factors or simply present periodically.
Myth: Society can’t help people with mental disorders.
Fact: The most important fact is that society can help the mental health community. People with mental illnesses are often unjustly blamed for their condition and even discriminated against. There are various steps we can take to help those struggling with mental disorders, including the following:
- Educate yourself and share the facts.
- Speak about mental health publicly.
- Avoid derogatory language.
- Push for inequality of all illness, physical and mental.
- Be compassionate and understanding.
- Encourage others to seek help.
It is our job as a society to use knowledge to remove stigmas associated with mental illness.