What are some myths and misconceptions about mental illness and health?

I have spent most of my childhood and adult life around friends and family who suffer from different types of mental health problems. It took me a long time to realize that not everyone has had these experiences, and I am saddened whenever I encounter someone who is clinging to a myth about mental illness that is completely far off.

There are some myths out there that have managed to die off (especially the one about mental illness being extremely rare), which is due mostly to lists like this one. Still, there are some mental illness misconceptions that may not be so obvious to everyone, making this a group of myths I hope you share with others in the future.

5. You’ll always suffer from mental health disorders.

At times, I have held on to this unfounded notion that people who are, say, diagnosed with severe depression will always suffer from it. This idea is propagated by the “medication mentality,” in which large practices may encourage long-term use of medication, even if it is not necessary. The result is that we logically believe something is wrong with us or someone else because they are still taking medication.

After all,why would you take medication if something wasn’t wrong?

The truth is that mental illness is effectively treated every day, and people who seek help often overcome their own situation. Of course, some individuals will struggle with disorders for their entire life, which can’t always be avoided. But that doesn’t mean they will always suffer.

4. Asking for help  is a sign of weakness.

That brings me to the next myth, which is that seeking help means you have a lack of willpower. I’ve seen some of the strongest people I’ve ever met display true willpower, which was to accept their limitations and ask for help. When you are struggling with something mentally, then it makes no sense to assume that you can mentally defeat it. Looking for external solutions is the real sign of strength.

3. Kids don’t struggle with mental illness.

This myth is becoming slightly less common because of how ubiquitous Autism and Aspergers has become in the media since I was a child. Still, a lot of people tend to think that children don’t experience “adult” disorders, such as depression and even addiction.

Actually, millions of kids suffer from mental illnesses for the same reasons adults do. It is a biological problem that we like to associate with an environment problem, so we are quick to assume that a child within living conditions we deem as suitable won’t have mental health problems. The real myth here is that circumstances and conditions are determining factors for preventing or even treating mental illness, which is a dangerous misconception to accept.

2. Schizophrenia means you have multiple personalities.

You can thank television and movies for this one. A huge myth about schizophrenia is that the people diagnosed with it have a split personality. Actually, schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations and finding it difficult to discern reality from fantasy.

It is not that the person “changes” or becomes someone else. They are themselves, but they are seeing things that aren’t really there. Even bipolar disorder is within the same vein, as it deals with people who have fluctuating emotions and moods. That said, these disorders are very treatable, since modern medication allows a person to regulate the chemical imbalances that are causing these problems.

1. Mental illness impairs intelligence.

Finally, difficulty with mental health does not make you any less intelligent. In fact, many people who suffer from mental illnesses tend to be brilliant and creative people, while others are not. In most cases, there is little causation between the two, though there is often correlation.

Take someone with Aspergers or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for example. These are mental illness that are characterized by obsession with certain facts and subjects. In many cases, this leads to a lot of intelligence, since they are abnormally focused on repeating things, which allows them to have more knowledge. Of course, this is a tradeoff for symptoms that are not so desirable.

For more info: “Mental Illness and Society.”