People struggling with mental health concerns are fighting more than their own brains — they also fight against misconceptions that consider people with mental health problems dangerous, lazy, useless, or beyond help. One thing we can do as a society to help individuals with mental illness, and to chip away at the crisis of mental illness as a whole, is to equip ourselves with the real facts. In other words, we can work to heal one of these two difficult sides of living with mental illness, working toward an ill person’s recovery instead of against it. Let’s start by dispelling 7 common mental health myths. And let’s continue with many more! Please let us know in the comments how your own experience with mental health has been misunderstood.
According to Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, even our youngest children are susceptible to mental health concerns, with 1 in 6 U.S. children aged 2–8 years (17.4%) having a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. Among teenagers, the rates are higher and increasing, with rates of diagnosed anxiety and depression in 6-17-year-olds doubling since 2003 from just over 5 percent, to almost 10 percent. MentalHealth.gov reports that half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14 years old, and three quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24
Only 4 percent of violent acts are committed by people with mental illness, yet people with mental illness are 10 times more likely than the general population to be victims of violence. According to the British Crime Survey, mental illness ranks far below drug and alcohol use as a cause of violent crime, with 64 percent of the victims of violent crimes suggesting that their offender was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but only 1 percent of victims believing that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness.
People with mental illness aren’t just making up their problems and can’t just “get over it” when they choose. Often, there is an underlying biological cause of mental illness, or at least factors of brain chemistry that contribute to the expression of mental illness. These biological factors are certainly beyond a patient’s control. Then, life circumstances often affect mental illness, and many of these are also beyond a patient’s ability to change. With your brain in control, and at the mercy of your history and surroundings, it may be impossible to “just get over” mental health problems.
Real factors of biology and life history combine to create real illness. According to the Mayo Clinic, causes of mental illness include inherited traits (genes), environmental exposures before birth, and brain chemistry. In addition to these “causes” are also “risk factors” that can make a mental illness bubble to the surface, including stressful situations, medical conditions, trauma, and drug/alcohol use.
According to mentalhelath.gov, people with mental health problems have good work attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, quality, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees. Forbes points out that many high-achieving people struggle with mental health concerns (especially anxiety and depression). And the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention outlines ways that the workplace can, in fact, be the perfect setting to address mental health concerns.
With personalized therapy sometimes including elements of psychotherapy and medication, many people with mental illness are able to get better and even recover completely. According to MentalHealth.gov, there are four dimensions that support recovery from mental illness: Health (making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being), Home (having a stable and safe place to live), Purpose (engaging in meaningful daily activities, such as a job or school, volunteering, caring for your family, or being creative), and Community (building relationships and social networks that provide support).
By recognizing and healing the situations that create or trigger trauma, for example by prioritizing the social-emotional well-being of kids, many mental illnesses can be prevented. According to the World Health Organization, programs to prevent mental illness, “have been found to reduce risk factors, strengthen protective factors and decrease psychiatric symptoms and disability and the onset of some mental disorders.”
Garth Sundem is a parent, husband, and author of books including “Real Real Kids, Real Stories, Real Change”.