Mental health is widely misunderstood. There is a stigma that surrounds mental health issues. This stigma prevents people from getting the help they need. The only way to stop the stigma is to learn as much as you can about it. The best way to do that is to dispel some of the common myths about mental illness.
Path to improved health
Here are some common myths about mental illness, and the facts that refute them.
Myth: Mental health problems are not that common.
Fact: Mental health problems are very common. About 1 of every 5 people will experience a mental health issue in a given year. One of every 25 has a serious mental health disorder. These include anxiety, major depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.
Myth: Children and teens don’t have mental health problems.
Fact: Research shows that 1 in 5 teenagers have or will have a mental illness. In 50% of adults who have a mental health issue, the first signs showed up before age 14. These problems are not the result of bad parenting. They are a combination of many factors. Many of these factors are beyond the child or parents’ control. Negative events in childhood can contribute to mental health issues in teens and adults.
Myth: People with mental health issues are violent or dangerous.
Fact: A large majority of mentally ill people are not violent. Only about 7% of violent acts are committed by a person with symptoms of mental illness. In fact, people with serious mental health issues are 10 times more likely to be a victim of violence.
Myth: Mental health problems are a sign of weakness.
Fact: Mental illness has nothing to do with strength or weakness. It is a medical disorder that needs treatment. If you need help with a mental issue, you are not weak. Many factors are involved in mental health, including:
- Your genes or brain chemistry can factor into your mental health. So can any disease or injury that you get.
- Your life experiences shape your mental health. This includes going through a traumatic event or having a very stressful job or home life.
- Your family history has a part to play in your mental health. Having a parent with a mental health problem could increase your risk of having one.
Myth: When someone develops a mental health problem, they will have it for the rest of their lives. They will never recover.
Fact: Mental health doesn’t stay the same. It goes up and down over the course of your life. Many factors can influence how you feel. If any of these factors change, you mental health can change. With treatment, many of the problems you may develop are temporary. A good treatment plan will help you work through the problem and recover. This doesn’t necessarily mean the problem has gone away. But you can find a way to live with it and still be a productive member of society.
At the same time, feeling better might not mean you’re cured. You may have to continue with your treatment plan even after you feel better. Some mental health problems never go away. These usually are more serious conditions such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But some cases of depression and anxiety are temporary and go away after treatment.
Myth: Therapy is a waste of time.
Fact: Some people may not be comfortable with therapy. They’re afraid they’ll have to go back into their childhoods. But modern therapy is designed to be short term. It focuses on problems and solutions. Research has shown that it is very effective in treating mental illness. It’s usually most effective when used in combination with medicine. Studies found that 70% to 90% of people reported an improvement in their symptoms when both were part of their treatment plan.
Myth: There’s nothing I can do to help someone with a mental health problem.
Fact: There are many things you can do to help someone:
- Let them know you are there if they need you.
- Help them find the mental health services they need.
- Learn about what they are going through.
- Treat them with respect. Don’t call them “crazy.”
- Express your support in ways they can understand.
- Get help for yourself if you need it.
- Don’t give up on them.
Myth: You can’t prevent mental illness.
Fact: You can’t always prevent getting mental health problems. But you can address risk factors you or your loved one may have:
- Try to minimize exposure to trauma. If you or a loved one experiences a traumatic event, get help right away. Early treatment can prevent worse problems in the future.
- Reduce stress. Having a very stressful job or home life can reduce the quality of your mental health.
- Put yourself in positive situations. Avoid negative people. Instead, surround yourself with healthy people with a good outlook on life.
- Establish healthy habits. Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get plenty of sleep. These basic self-care methods can go a long way in how you feel about yourself and how you function.
Things to consider
The stigma that surrounds mental illness prevents people from getting the help and support they need. They are afraid of what people will think of them. So they don’t seek treatment. Their condition often gets worse. Sometimes people even take their own lives, because the stigma of mental illness kept them from seeking help.
Look for these signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing signs of mental illness:
- Feeling sad or depressed.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Extreme feelings (including fear, guilt, sadness, or anger).
- Withdrawal from friends or activities.
- Extreme mood changes.
- Alcohol or drug abuse.
- Unexplained hostility or violence.
- Inability to cope with stress or your feelings.
- Delusions, paranoia, or hallucinations (such as hearing voices).
- Thinking about hurting yourself or others.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Mental illness is nothing to be embarrassed by or ashamed of. Being aware of mental health issues and learning the truth can help you and others. It can even save lives.
Questions to ask your doctor
- I have some of these symptoms. Could I have a mental illness?
- What is the treatment?
- Do I need to see a psychiatrist?
- Do I need therapy?
- Can you recommend a counselor or therapist I could see?
- Is this a temporary problem or is it permanent?
- Will I need treatment for the rest of my life?
- What can I do at home to help me recover?
- How can I explain to other people the mental problem that I’m having?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.