Our country has come quite a way from the Freudian stigmas and public embarrassment associated with mental illness of the early 1900s, but some skepticism remains. Even in 2017, there are many myths and misconceptions about the legitimacy of mental health and the efficacy of treatment, some of which prevent people from reaching out for the assistance they need.
1. Seeking mental health assistance is an indicator of failure.
Because of the stigmas associated with mental illnesses – even the common ones like depression or anxiety – about half of Americans coping with mental illness will not seek out treatment (SoRelle). Much like going to the doctor for cancer treatments, or calling a specialist to treat chronic back pain, reaching out to a mental health practitioner is an indicator of prioritizing one’s health, and should not be considered a failure.
2. People with mental illness are just “weak,” or, “lazy.”
Mental illness is neither a condition that someone choses to have, nor is it a sign of weakness. The most common causes of mental illness are: genetics, physical injury or disability, trauma or abuse, or changes in brain chemistry (MentalHealth.gov). Put in perspective, attending to mental health is a mark of strength or perseverance against incredible odds.
3. Individuals with mental illness are usually violent.
Individuals with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than other people. In addition, people with a severe mental illness are ten times more likely to find themselves as a victim of violence (MentalHealth.gov). Studies have been done throughout many countries, consistently rendering the same results: there is no evidence to support that mental illness has any impact on the rate of violence (Treatment Advocacy Center).
4. A person who has mental illness cannot keep a steady job or take care of a family.
Approximately one out of five adults in the United States suffer from a mental illness (NAMI.org). This means that out of every five adults you work with or know personally, one of them is bound to have been diagnosed with a mental illness within their lifetime. With correct assistance, any individual can maintain a steady job and be a wonderful parent. In fact, when more employees in any given workplace receive mental health care, there is lower absenteeism, better overall morale, and increased productivity (MentalHealth.gov).
5. Taking medication for mental health will alter your personality.
Many individuals are concerned that if they take a medicine for their mental illness, it will drastically alter their personality. The fact of the matter is that while some trial and error may occur in order to find the correct medication, drugs such as antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, or antipsychotics, are designed to bring out your true personality – which may, in fact, have been altered or suppressed by your illness (heretohelp.bc.ca). Once you find the right medication, it can drastically improve your life without fundamentally changing who you are.
6. Psychology and Psychiatry are phony medical studies, and mental health practitioners are not real doctors.
The truth is that Psychology and Psychiatry are very important studies: they help us understand human behavior, and create healthy patterns. Like most fields of medicine, mental health received its greatest advancements because of wartime (AHP). The two P’s became necessary to implement after soldiers suffered severe mental and physical injuries.
Technically, Psychologists are not required to attend medical school, and therefore they are not permitted to prescribe medication. However, Psychologists must receive a Ph.D. and licensure to practice. Psychiatrists attend medical school, complete residencies, and must take licensure exams. Both are considered doctors, but have slight differences in education requirements, and salaries (EFPA).
7. Mental health problems do not affect me.
Mental health affects all of us. It is certain that within your lifetime you will encounter, or become close with, someone who suffers from a mental illness. Even if you are not familiar with an individual who deals with depression, or has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, there is a good chance that someone you work for, who makes decisions about your life, or will eventually take care of you, has experienced mental illness. In addition, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States; about 41,000 citizens commit suicide every year – a significant portion of our population (MentalHealth.gov). If mental illness were treated with as much gravity as other leading factors of death, such as Heart Disease or Diabetes, perhaps we could decrease this unconscionable number of suicides through awareness and appropriate concern for the mental health of all people.