6 Common myths about mental illness, busted

Don’t let misinformation and common myths about mental illness get in the way of your mental health and happiness. We’ll help you separate fact from fiction.

More than 55 million Americans live with a mental illness. With such a wide impact, awareness about mental health is growing. But there’s still a lot of work to do. Why?

Misinformation, stigma, and lack of education about mental illness stop many people from getting the help they need, says Michelle Drapkin, Ph.D., A.B.P.P., a board-certified psychologist in Highland Park, New Jersey. In fact, over half of all adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment.

Below, we offer a closer look at the common myths about mental illness. Understanding the truth can help you (or a loved one) get the help you deserve.

Myth 1: Mental illness is rare.

More than 1 in 5 American adults live with a mental illness. And 1 in 25 lives with a more serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

“Mental illness is certainly not rare. The idea that it is rare contributes to a lot of stigma,” says Jessica Turner, M.D. Dr. Turner is a psychiatrist in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, and author of The Motivational Interviewing Path to Personal Change. “If you have 10 people in a room, 2 of them will have had a condition like depression. We need to talk about it, so people can get treatment.”

Myth 2: Seeking treatment for a mental illness is a sign of weakness.

“It’s actually a sign of strength,” says Dr. Drapkin. “The sooner you seek help, the less treatment you may need.” In fact, if you get help early on, when symptoms are milder, you may be able to stave off full-blown effects later.

“Do you wait for your car to completely fall apart to take it to the mechanic?” Dr. Drapkin asks. “Or do you bring it in when it first begins to make weird noises? If you address these conditions early, you’ll prevent future challenges.”

Myth 3: Only certain types of people have a mental illness.

Mental illness can be a reality for anyone. That’s true no matter what their age, race, socioeconomic status, or cultural background. “Mental illness absolutely does not discriminate,” says Dr. Drapkin.

Genetics, however, may play a role. Did a parent, sibling, or grandparent of yours struggle with a mental illness? If so, you may find that you do too. “Genetics can influence how you react to a certain life stressor,” says Dr. Turner.

There are also genes that may increase your chance of developing certain conditions. Examples include:

  • Schizophrenia.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Major depression.

Myth 4: Mental illnesses can only be treated with medication.

Many conditions such as depression and anxiety can be managed with talk therapy and lifestyle changes. “Many people are afraid that if they see a psychologist or psychiatrist, they’ll be forced to take medication. But there are often other lifestyle changes that can be implemented first,” says Dr. Turner. And sometimes the most effective action is to combine talk therapy with medication, adds Dr. Drapkin.

Myth 5: People with a mental illness are dangerous.

It’s a common misconception, says Dr. Turner. In fact, the opposite is often true. People with schizophrenia, for example, are at least 14 times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than to be arrested for one. “This myth stems from misunderstanding. And a fear of the unknown,” says Dr. Turner.

Unfortunately, it’s one more myth that can stop people from seeking help. “Many patients are worried that if they speak to a psychiatrist, they will be hospitalized against their will,” says Dr. Turner. “The truth is, that rarely happens unless it’s a real life-or-death emergency.” Every state has procedures in place to manage involuntary commitment. And they work to keep those periods as short as possible when it’s safe for the patient and community.

Myth 6: Mental illness is a choice.

“Some of my patients have been told to just snap out of it,” says Dr. Turner. “But you can’t fake it until you make it with mental illness.”

Think about it like this: You wouldn’t tell someone that it was their choice to develop breast cancer or heart disease. Mental illness is the exact same way. And the sooner everyone understands that, the happier and healthier we’ll all be.

Wellframe can connect you with your care advocate to find an in-network mental health professional on your own time. Many health plans offer Wellframe to their members as a benefit at no extra cost. To find out if yours does, reach out to your human resources department.

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