Mental Illness Myths and the Damage They Cause
The myths about mental illness abound in our society and there is no doubt that mental illness myths hurt people with mental illness and increase the prejudice and discrimination they face. Mental illness myths range from things like the idea that people with mental illness can't work all the way to the notion that mental illness doesn't exist at all. It's important to be able to separate mental illness myth from fact in order to truly understand mental health issues (Different Mental Disorders and Their Challenges).
The Myth of Mental Illness
Some people argue that mental illness itself is a myth. Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz said that schizophrenia didn't exist back in the 1960s and Szasz's mental illness ideas still resonate with some today.
However, modern science has clearly identified not only the symptoms of specific mental illnesses, like schizophrenia and major depressive disorder, but we now also understand that mental illness is biological and genetic as well. Additionally, mental health challenges have now been found to be extremely common with one-in-five adults in the United States experiencing a mental health issue in the last year. One-in-twenty people live with serious mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia (Mental Health Statistics and Facts).
The Myth That Children Don't Experience Mental Illness
Some people think of childhood as a carefree time and can't imagine a child suffering from a mental health challenge but the fact is, children do experience mental health problems and mental illnesses. Half of all mental health disorders appear before the age of 14 and three-quarters of mental health disorders occur before the age of 24. Even children younger than 12, in rare cases, can suffer from mental illness (Anxiety and Children: Symptoms, Causes of Childhood Anxiety).
This mental illness myth causes great damage to young people as less than 20% of all children and adolescents with a mental health problem get diagnosed and treated, which is unfortunate as early treatment is the best way to prevent future problems.
The Myth That People with Mental Illness Are Violent
There is a myth that the mentally ill are violent and unpredictable. This likely stems from the fact that the media focuses on violent acts and often blames those acts on mental illness.
However, most people with mental illness are not violent at all. As 5% of people suffer with a serious mental illness, you likely know many of these people. Since they are much the same as everyone else, you would never know they had a mental illness and you likely have never seen them as violent or unpredictable.
Only 3-5% of all violent acts can be attributed to people with a serious mental illness and substance abuse tends to play a part in these acts.
The Mental Illness Myth That Weakness or a Character Flaw Causes Mental Illness
It was once thought that mental illness was due to anger from the gods, then it was thought to be demonic possession and after that witchcraft (The History Of Mental Illness).
Another idea just as outmoded is the idea that mental illness stems from a personal weakness. Science and medicine now understand the roots of mental illness to be genetic, physical and environmental and personality and strength has nothing to do with it. Anyone from a five star General to a grocery store clerk can have a mental illness – mental illness doesn't discriminate.
Don't Believe Mental Illness Myths
Most myths about mental illness are a result of fear because some people are different. Just like we have come to accept different sexualities and races, we also need to accept those whose brains simply think differently. And it's important to remember that people with mental illnesses are just people – they just also happen to have an illness.
Last Updated: 20 May 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD