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  • Carolyn Hewett

MYTHS and FACTS About Mental Illness

Updated: Mar 8



Myth: Mental illness is incurable and lifelong

Fact: With the right kind of help, treated appropriately and early, most people recover fully and have no further episodes of illness. For others, mental illness may recur throughout their lives and require ongoing treatment. This is the same as many physical illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease. Like these other long-term health conditions, mental illness can be managed so that individuals live life to the fullest.

Although some people become disabled as a result of ongoing mental illness, many who experience even very major episodes of illness live full and productive lives.

Myth: People are born with a mental illness

Fact: A vulnerability to some mental illnesses, such as bipolar mood disorder, can run in families. But other people develop mental illness with no family history.

Many factors contribute to the onset of a mental illness. These may include stress, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment, social isolation, a major physical illness, physical and sexual abuse, or disability. Our understanding of the causes of mental illness is growing.

Myth: Mental health disorders aren’t “real” illnesses

Fact: Mental health disorders are real and legitimate illnesses.

Many people wonder about the validity of mental illness, such as, “Is mental illness a disability?”, “Is mental illness a medical condition?” and even “Is mental illness real?” People who wonder about the legitimacy of mental illness do so because they fail to understand that mental disorders are diagnosable medical conditions. Even though they may not have a physical manifestation, mental health disorders can cause significant impairment to an individual’s well-being.

Mental illness is caused by a combination of factors, with genetic and chemical imbalances playing a large role in its development. Brain scans in some patients with mental disorders show certain areas of the brain that are different shapes or sizes compared to the rest of the population. There are measurable, physical problems within the brain that can lead to the altered thought processes common with mental illness.

Myth: Only certain types of people develop a mental illness

Fact: As many as one in five people may develop a mental illness at some stage in their lives. Everyone is vulnerable to mental health problems. It affects people regardless of age, education, income or culture.

Myth: Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness

Fact: A mental illness is not a character flaw. It is caused by a complex interplay of genetic, biological, social and environmental factors. Seeking and accepting help is a sign of resilience and strength.

Myth: People with a mental illness are dangerous

Fact: This false perception underlies some of the most damaging stereotypes for people with mental illness. People with a mental illness are seldom dangerous. Even people with the most severe mental illness, whose symptoms may cause them to act in bizarre or unusual ways, are rarely dangerous.

Myth: Mental illness is a form of intellectual disability or brain damage

Fact: They are illnesses just like any other, such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma. Yet the traditions of sympathy, support, and flowers given to people with physical illnesses are often denied to those with a mental illness.

Myth: People with a mental illness can ‘pull themselves out of it’

Fact: A mental illness is not caused by personal weakness and is not ‘cured’ by personal strength.

Myth: Children don’t develop mental health conditions

Fact: Mental illness can occur at any age.

It is estimated that 13% of children between 8–15 years old will develop or experience a mental health condition. Mental health conditions in children do tend to manifest differently than in adults. Therefore, children’s mental health disorders may be dismissed as behavioral problems. Unfortunately, children can develop clinical depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.

There are many mental health conditions that can lead to behavioral issues, so it can be difficult sometimes to distinguish between which types of misbehavior are a normal part of childhood and which are symptomatic of an underlying mental illness. Someone who believes that their child may have a mental illness should consult with a psychiatrist to see if their child’s behavior is normal. While mental illness is less common in children, it is still possible for children to develop mental health issues.


Myth: Therapy doesn’t help those with mental illness

Fact: Therapy has been proven beneficial for individuals with mental health conditions.

Many people wonder about the effectiveness of therapy in helping those with mental illness. While some may be skeptical about the difference if any it could possibly make, therapy has been shown to be a vital part of any mental health treatment plan.

Therapy offers an opportunity for people with mental health issues to voice their thoughts and opinions on what is going on with the course of their illness and gives professionals the opportunity to evaluate the patient’s current state and how they are responding to treatment. Additionally, therapy can be used to help those with mental illness change any thoughts and behaviors that may be harmful to themselves or their well-being. Many therapies have been shown to improve the outcomes of those with mental illness and should not be discounted.

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