To truly end the stigma surrounding mental illness, it’s important
that we as a society understand the truths behind the causes, symptoms,
and treatments of these disorders. It’s important to dispel the
myths surrounding these illnesses in order to eradicate the fear and misconceptions
so prevalent in today’s society. Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D., Manager
Behavioral Health Programs and the Psychiatric Emergency Team at the Laguna Beach campus of
Mission Hospital, identifies the following as common misperceptions about mental illness:
1. People with a mental illness are more prone to violence.
When a tragic and violent crime occurs, people are too often quick to blame
mental illness as being the driving factor. Unfortunately, this only further
perpetuates the stigma that those with mental health disorders are unpredictable,
prone to violence, and can’t be trusted. “In actuality,”
says Hutchinson, “mental illnesses are not necessarily an indication
of violent tendencies. Results of several studies have been inconsistent
in proving whether it is mental illness or substance abuse that is contributing
to violent behavior. Multiple factors come into play such as family history
and life stressors like divorce or the loss of a loved one. It is hard
to identify what exactly is the cause of violent behavior but to say it
is due to mental illness would be unfair in many cases and inaccurate.”
2. Mental health issues, like depression or anxiety, are all in your head.
They’re not as serious as physical diseases, like cancer or heart disease.
Mental health issues are not caused by personal weaknesses. It’s
not uncommon for someone with depression or anxiety to hear something
along the lines of “snap out of it” or “you’ll
get over it,” but that’s not how it works. Comments like these
discourage people with mental illnesses from seeking necessary help, as
they feel ashamed that they are too weak to work through it on their own.
Hutchinson emphasizes, “Mental illnesses are legitimate ailments
that, more often than not, also manifest as physical illnesses with symptoms
like loss of appetite, headaches, or stomach pain. They are brain disorders
with valid genetic and biological causes, and need to be treated as such.”
3. Mental illness does not affect children or adolescents.
Too often people assume that mental illnesses like depression are just
“facts of life” that are inevitable as we age and experience
tragedies. It’s this outlook that leads people to believe that mental
health issues do not affect children or adolescents, which is a dangerous
assumption that can lead to life-altering mental illnesses going undiagnosed
or overlooked for far too long.
Over half of all diagnosed mental health cases begin showing signs before
the age of 14, and acknowledging and treating these cases early can make
all the difference in how that child goes on to live their adult life.
“Kids and adolescents may show early warning signs that should be
taken seriously,” notes Hutchinson, “not only so that they
can receive treatment, but also to remind them that they have the support
of loving friends and family who want to help them.”
4. Mental illness is a result of a bad childhood.
While notable life experiences, like traumas and abuse, can certainly play
a role in the development of a mental disorder, these illnesses cannot
be written off as solely being the result of poor parenting or a bad childhood.
There are other biological and personal risk factors, such as a chemical
imbalance or genetic susceptibility, that have to be factored in when
considering the root cause of these illnesses.
5. A person with mental health problems can’t be helped.
“Treatment varies for every individual, but a combination of medication,
therapy, and a solid support system is generally the recipe for helping
people with mental illnesses lead happy, healthy lives,” says Hutchinson.
Mental health issues are serious illnesses that require ongoing and comprehensive
care, in which social support plays an extremely important role. Being
surrounded by friends and family that understand what they’re going
through can make all the difference--something as simple as running small
errands for them, driving them to their appointments, or picking up their
medication, can be exactly what they need.
Have you helped provide social support for a person being treated for mental
illness? Share a comment below.
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