Myths and Facts About Mental Health

When we think of our health, many of us think of our bodies – our organs, muscles and such. Much of us doing well and feeling well is due to the healthy functioning of our brain and mental abilities. Taking care of our mental health and seeking treatment for disorders that can affect our mental health is critical to maintaining our overall health.

About one in five U.S. adults will have a treatable mental disorder this year. That’s about 61.5 million Americans — more than the total populations of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana combined. Of that number, about 13.6 million, one in 25 of us, live with a serious mental illness such as major depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, which affect both children and adults.

Studies conducted over the past two decades by the World Health Organization have shown that, worldwide, major depression accounts for more years of disability than all other illnesses, and that alcohol and drug use disorders, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia are among the 10 leading causes of disability and death worldwide.

Over the years, many who have had mental health challenges may have been reluctant to seek professional care. Uncertainty or a perceived stigma may have caused them to hesitate to seek help, though current treatments substantially improve the lives of the vast majority of those with mental disorders.

There are many common myths about mental disorders and their treatment. Knowing more about these myths can help motivate people to seek treatment for their mental disorders, improving their functioning — and their physical health and quality of life.

Here Are Some Common Mental Health Myths, and Facts You Should Know

Myth: A Mental Health Problem Won't Affect Me.

We’ve already touched on some numbers that show how common mental health issues are.

Did you know one in 10 young people have experienced a time of major depression? That means depression may have already touched your family. Even very young children may need mental health care. The U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services says half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person is 14 years old. About 75 percent of mental disorders begin before age 24.

Like most illnesses, mental disorders arise from an interaction of biological, psychological and social factors, and can be chronic or recurrent. Experienced mental health clinical specialists can achieve accurate diagnoses of such disorders.

Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental disorders receive treatment that would help them.

Myth: People with Mental Health Problems Tend to Be Violent and Unpredictable.

The best predictor of future violence is a past history of violence, and most people who are violent do not have a treatable mental disorder. People with the most common mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, have lower rates of violence than the majority of people. People with severe mental illness are, however, 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime.

You likely know someone with a mental disorder and don’t even know it.

Myth: People with Depression and Other Mental Health Problems Can Snap out of It If They Just Try Harder.

Having a mental disorder isn’t due to lack of will. All of the common mental disorders have a strong biological basis. Most such disorders have a strong genetic basis, and brain scans have shown that changes in brain chemistry and faulty connections in brain circuits are present in these disorders. Physical illnesses, medications, alcohol and drug use and brain injuries also disrupt normal brain functioning to produce disorders with symptoms of depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. While people with depression and other mental disorders sometimes have periods of low motivation as a result of their illness, prompt and proper treatment can help even severely ill people recover and enjoy life again.

Myth: People with Mental Health Needs Generally Have a Hard Time Holding down a Job.

Most people with mental disorders can be highly productive, particularly if they receive appropriate treatment for their mental disorder. Treatment of these disorders reduces employers’ and workers’ overall health care costs and boosts productivity.

Myth: Only Professionals Can Help People with Mental Health Problems.

Friends and family can help a person with mental health problems by encouraging them to get treatment and then stick with it once it’s underway. Here are five things you can do:

  • Reach out and let the person know you’d like to help.
  • Help them access mental health services.
  • Learn and share the facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn’t true.
  • Treat the person with respect, just like anyone else.
  • Refuse to define them by their diagnosis or use labels such as “crazy.”

Myth: People with Mental Illness Don't Ever Really Get Better.

If a person gets the right treatment, they can recover. Mental health care is becoming more sophisticated and effective. Researchers continue to find new treatments.

You can help your loved ones better understand mental health care. Now you know more about the topic and can help those in need to find their way to the right health care for their needs.

Meet the Author

Michael J. Bohn, MD is a psychiatrist at the Aurora Behavioral Health Center in Wauwatosa, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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