9 Myths About Mental Illness

Myths about mental illness are not harmless; they can directly and negatively affect those who suffer.

However, you can be an agent for change just by arming yourself with facts, which can help you be more compassionate to yourself and understanding of others. The myths below are a good place to start:

    1. People with mental illness are more dangerous than the general population: Those with mental illness are no more dangerous than those in the general population. It is a myth that mentally ill people are dangerous. In fact, those suffering from severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence.


    1. People with mental illness are weak: Mental illness is not an indication of weakness. Mental illness is caused by multiple factors such as genes, family of origin, medical conditions, personality, organic brain diseases, and socioeconomic status—factors that are largely out of someone’s control. Furthermore, many people that suffer from mental illness exhibit extraordinary bravery and courage as they manage and work through their struggles.


    1. People with mental illness are making it up: Mental illness is a biological phenomenon as well as a psychological one. Your family history (genetic inheritance) and environment, brain chemistry, and history of traumatic events can contribute to mental illness. No one chooses to be mentally ill; however, our choices can exacerbate or mitigate mental illness. Mental illness is a challenging struggle that many would rather not have to deal with if they had the choice.


    1. People with mental illness just want attention: There is a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness. Our culture is not very open or accepting to those who struggle with depressionanxiety, and other mental health disorders. Most of the attention drawn to someone with mental illness is typically shame-based. And because of the stigma, many who suffer from mental illness are isolated and driven to the margins of our society. They do not choose to be mentally ill to get attention, much the opposite—mental illness tends to increase someone’s invisibility in the eyes of our culture.


    1. Mental illness can be fixed like medical conditions: Mental illness is unlike physical illness in that its causes originate in a person’s socioeconomic status, social network, biology, and psychology. The method for curing medical conditions and healing the body doesn’t work in the same way as it does for healing psychological issues. Mental illness is typically treated by counseling, support groups, psychiatric care, and psychotropic medications, among other interventions. It is a process that can take several months or years or a lifetime. However, it is true that mental health and physical health are closely related and can impact one another.


    1. Just medicate it: Psychotropic medication, although proven to be clinically helpful for some mentally ill clients, is not a silver bullet. The best outcomes are achieved when clients take medication in combination with psychotherapy. Medication is helpful, but the client must also make changes to the way they think, behave, and relate to others. They must also be taking medication under the management of a psychiatrist. It’s a lot of hard work.


    1. Just walk it off: Mental illness doesn’t go away when you ignore it. In fact, mental illness can worsen when ignored. The “walk it off” or “rub some dirt on it” mentality does not help the problem. Addressing mental illness, although uncomfortable, is hugely important and can lead to positive outcomes.


    1. Children don’t experience mental illness: Children can suffer from a range of mental illnesses. Mental health professionals are hesitant to diagnose and medicate children since it could impact their development; yet, that does not mean children do not experience mental illness. It is encouraging that more and more research is being done on mental illness in children, along with models of treatment that can help children process trauma and address mental illness like sand tray therapy.


  1. Mental illness is impossible to recover from: A great deal of research has focused on the efficacy of psychotherapy and mental health treatment, repeatedly showing that people can recover from mental illness. In some cases, mental illness is a lifelong struggle, but it can be managed so that a person can function and enjoy their life. And for many others, treatment leads to the resolution of the mental illness.

I hope this list deepens your understanding of mental illness and exposes and eradicates any myths you have. Moving from myth to fact can help when you may be faced with mental illness or when someone you know is struggling. A greater knowledge of mental illness can increase your compassion.

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