There are over 200 classified forms of mental illness, from widely known disorders like depression and anxiety to the less recognized diseases such as dissociative identity disorder. In either regard—whether they’re well-known, common, or not—society fails to truly understand them. Oftentimes, people think they understand them, but in reality, they believe and fuel the countless misconceptions about mental illness. In order to stop the stigma, we need to debunk these myths and learn the facts. Gabriella Farkas, MD, PhD, is here to lead the conversation and educate you on six different disorders. Farkas, Founder of Pearl Behavior Health and Medicine and Pearl Medical Publishing LLC, Visiting Scientist at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and Attending Psychiatrist at Northwell Health Physician Partners Telepsychiatry, presents six facts, which simultaneously dispel common misconceptions:
1) Grief does not equal depression.
While depression is characterized by feelings of intense sadness, it is not synonymous with grief. The former is a very serious mental illness, while grief is a response to loss. “Depression is distinctly different from and more serious than grief; experiencing grief is not indicative of or the cause of depression,” Farkas explains. “Bereavement usually does not bring about a depressive disorder, though it can instigate the first episode for those predisposed to depression. Whereas the bereaved can still experience the full range of human emotions while grieving, those who are depressed mainly find themselves unable to feel happiness or pleasure during depressive episodes.”
2) The mania in bipolar II may be less intense, but the disorder is still serious.
People oftentimes underestimate the severity of bipolar II due to the presence of hypomanic versus manic episodes; however, both bipolar I and II are serious disorders, as explained by Farkas: “There are two forms of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I is defined by the presence of both major depressive and manic episodes. Bipolar II is defined by major depressive and hypomanic (less symptomatically manic) episodes. Though the mania is ‘less intense,’ the disorder is no less serious. Individuals with bipolar II tend to be depressed longer and undergo more episodes (Depressed or hypomanic) than bipolar I individuals. For both disorders, there is a distinct difference between a regularly happy, outgoing person in remission from a major depressive episode and a person having a manic or hypomanic episode. During remission periods between episodes, most bipolar individuals return to a fully functional baseline; however, 15-30% will remain impaired by their condition, and about 20% of those with bipolar II do not experience remission periods.”
3) PTSD can be caused by a variety of traumatic events—not just war.
We associate post-traumatic stress disorder with war and war veterans, but this disorder can be caused by any traumatic event and experienced by any given individual. Furthermore, PTSD sufferers don’t always experience serious emotional responses related to the illness, as explained by Farkas: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is instigated by a traumatic event, though the individual may or may not experience emotional responses (e.g., fear or horror) regarding it. While PTSD is most often associated with war veterans, the disorder can also be caused by serious injuries, death, abuse, accidents, and medical emergencies. It can also be caused indirectly when such events happen to close family or friends.”
4) People with schizophrenia aren’t typically aggressive or violent.
The mentally ill are oftentimes unfairly characterized as aggressive or violent, especially those with schizophrenia; however, these individuals are not more violent than the average person. “Schizophrenia is commonly associated with psychosis and aggression, but neither of these characteristics are necessary for a diagnosis,” Farkas says. “Psychosis is a distinct feature not necessarily inherent to the disorder, and psychotic schizophrenics may not be fully aware of their condition. Hostility and aggression are potential symptoms, but random acts of violence are uncommon. Hallucinations may prompt them to harm oneself or others, and the result is often suicidal ideation or attempts.”
5) There’s a difference between being “detail-oriented” and having OCD.
Many people claim to have OCD, but they really just mean they’re “detail-oriented or anal, according to Farkas. “Obsessive-compulsive disorder is defined by the presence of obsessions (persistent, unwanted impulses) and/or compulsions (repetitive behaviors one finds necessary in response to obsessions or rules). There is a crucial distinction between being ‘anal’ or ‘detail-oriented’ and having OCD,” she says. “Those with OCD believe negative consequences will result if the compulsive behavior is not conducted as perceived necessary. Though each individual’s symptoms are entirely unique, common obsessions and compulsions include cleaning, symmetry, counting, inappropriate thoughts, and harm. Beliefs concerning responsibility, perfectionism, thought-action fusion (the belief that thinking something is the same as doing it), and/or control are common. There are several obsessive-compulsive disorders aside from OCD. They include body dysmorphia (concern about nonexistent body defects or flaws), hoarding (difficulty parting with possessions regardless of value), trichotillomania (pulling out one’s hair), and excoriation (picking at one’s skin).”
6) Dissociative identity sufferers are often overwhelmed by their condition.
Dissociative identity disorder is a very real disorder, but it’s largely misunderstood in part because individuals “feign” or pretend to have it. In reality, its sufferers don’t flaunt the disorder and are instead ashamed of it. “Dissociative identity disorder, formerly called multiple personality disorder, is defined by an individual experiencing and displaying multiple distinct identities. The characteristic disruptions of and/or discontinuity in one’s consciousness, memory, identity, perception, and behavior are due to dissociative amnesia, where each identity does not know what the others do, causing gaps in the person’s timeline,” Farkas explains. “The disorder is commonly brought about by childhood trauma. Unfortunately, however, unlike other disorders, some individuals will feign having dissociative identities. They usually create stereotypical identities and seem to enjoy the experience. Actual sufferers have complex identities and are usually ashamed of and overwhelmed by their condition.”