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Three False Assumptions About Mental Illness That Cost Us Dearly

There are advantages and disadvantages about living openly with mental illness. The disadvantages are usually steeped in stigma, which perpetuates in part because people are afraid to be open about mental illness. Out of all the false assumptions that exist, there are probably three that cost us dearly: the belief that we should be treated like children, the belief we don’t know what’s happening to us, and the belief that we aren’t reliable.

False Assumption 1: People with mental illness should be treated like children.

I was talking to a caregiver once when I asked if she had any children. She replied that she was responsible for her brother, who had severe mental illness, so “It’s like having a child.” I was disturbed by this because he was a grown man. He was not a child, just a sick adult.

Some people with mental illness are impulsive or have no appreciation for the consequences of their actions, and these people are usually in an inpatient setting. But if they are grown adults, they should be treated as grown adults. Yes, they have a handicap. No, it doesn’t make them stupid. Yes, they should be treated with their mental illness in consideration. No, they shouldn’t be treated as if they’re incompetent. Unless a court rules otherwise, people with severe mental illness have the right to be treated as legal adults.

False Assumption 2: People with severe mental illness don’t know what’s happening to them.

This belief almost always precedes abuse. If people believe that the person affected by mental illness does not know what is happening to him or her, then it is easier to prey upon their weaknesses.

Stigma often brings about false assumptions about people with mental illness. Here are three misbeliefs that hurt us all. By Beck Oberg, author of More than Borderline blog.A case in point was at Richmond State Hospital. A patient went off over being denied cigarettes. Staff put him in restraints. A custodian allegedly pulled out a knife and said “It’s time for the blood-letting.” He complained to staff, who said that he was mentally ill and probably didn’t know what was happening to him. He then complained to me since he knew I used to be a reporter. I went to staff and asked if they were aware of his allegations. They told me to “consider the source.”

Another example was just today. I received a money order in the mail that was obviously bogus. I called the police, and they came to my apartment, which is staffed by people from a community mental health center. The CMHC staff came up to my apartment and watched the entire interaction with the police despite the fact I had full control of the situation and didn’t need their help. It felt belittling and humiliating, like they assumed I didn’t know someone was trying to rip me off.

False Assumption 3: People with mental illness aren’t reliable.

This could be a post in and of itself. People with mental illness are often seen as so impaired by their illness that they can’t discern fact from fiction–even if their illness is relatively minor. For example, I’ve been the victim of two violent crimes–and each time, my psychiatric status was known. The prosecutor refused to file charges both times, saying there wasn’t enough evidence in one case and that “it would be too hard” to file the other case. I’m sure some of you have stories about law enforcement interactions that turned out negatively due to your psychiatric status.

This is a prevalent belief not only in legal situations, but also medical situations. I’ve told the story of Eric before–Eric, an addict being treated at Richmond State Hospital, sought treatment for a ruptured appendix and was told he was making it up in order to get pain pills. As a result, he went for five hours without medical treatment. He brought it up at a unit meeting, and the unit director told him, “Consider what people think when an addict says they’re in pain.” Something similar happened to me–the unit staff refused to fill my inhaler because I might use it to get high–despite the fact I have no history of prescription drug abuse. They admitted this to me when I had an asthma attack.

These misbeliefs can cost us dearly. The only way to fight them is through education, which usually occurs by people observing for themselves what is and is not true about a person with severe mental illness. Sadly, the stigma often keeps people from living openly with mental illness because of these misbeliefs.

14 thoughts on “Three False Assumptions About Mental Illness That Cost Us Dearly”

  1. My (Australian) government is discriminating against people with a lived experience of mental illness in the way they are implementing National Disability Insurance Scheme in the way they set the criteria for “psychosocial disability” by requiring it to be a lifelong disability )when most people don’t want to give up the hope of recovery, and by saying if your disability is the responsibility of the health department you may not qualify. On top of this they are trying to force mental health consumers off the pension by saying they need to make cuts to afford NDIS. Many projects like support groups and small mental health services are in danger. This government are under the assumption that most mental health patients are drug addicts and it’s our fault we got sick (which people here know is untrue). Current policies have more to do with punishment then supporting recovery. I believe that many policies underlie the belief that people who are not well enough to work are worth-less and don’t contribute to society. There is talk of future “income management” in theroy to stop people using drugs but it might be applied to most Disability Support Pensioners with the idea that DSP clients=drug users. I fear many people who self-medicate either because their meds don’t help or because they developed an addiction before diagnosis may take their lives.

    This is all happening because of the false assumptions Tony Abbott and his ministers have on mental illnesses.

  2. There are so many negative assumptions about people with mental illnesses and you shared some great examples. These stigmas need to stop. Did you know that the discrimination against people with mental illnesses sometimes results in them refusing to seek professional help? About 2 thirds of people with mental illness are afraid to get the help they need. By informing everyone about the effects these stigmas have, maybe we can reduce them and eventually put an end to these false assumptions.

  3. I wish some of my friends would get to read this write-up.
    One of them had my Laptop for repairs and for a year when later i asked him, he insist I came for it at his workplace, when in fact i could recount whatever i was doing during a bipolar episode.

    Since most of my friends knew about my mental condition, it became my word against the friend whom they told told me that he was also going through some financial problems so it could be that he sold it, thinking that i had forgotten about my laptop.
    Thanks for the education.

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