12 Common Mental Health Myths

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Mental health is often misrepresented by the media and stigmatized by the public. I frequently hear statements of disbelief from my clients and peers when I talk about how common mental health issues are in the United States. In my career, I’ve learned there are many mental health myths floating around that are commonly believed and often very, very rough. Today I’m doing to address the 12 most common mental health myths I hear.

12 Common Mental Health Myths

1. Mental health doesn’t affect me, my family, or anyone I know.

This is far from the truth. In 2014, studies showed:

  • 20% of adults (that’s 1 in 5) experience some sort of mental health issue during their lifetime
  • 10% of teens (1 in 10) experience a period of major depression
  • 4% (1 in 25) of the U.S. population is living with a serious mental illness

2. Most of the “crazies” are either homeless or live in asylums.

Much more often than not (less than 30%), people with mental illness are productive members of society, living in the community and contributing to society. I am one of them. Psychiatric hospitals (not “asylums”) are very different in real life from what you see in movies and on TV. Psychiatric hospitals are most often used for brief admissions to help stabilize someone, including evaluating current medications or prescribing new medications. Also, unless there is a serious risk that a person will hurt themselves or someone else, you are able to leave whenever you want.

3. But don’t they do horrible stuff to people in psychiatric hospitals?

Psychiatric hospitals don’t experiment on you or force you to undergo radical procedures. And that electric therapy (electro-shock) you sometimes see in movies? That is very, VERY rarely used today. Today, it is a voluntary, last-resort type treatment for people with severe depression.

4. People with mental health problems cannot function in society.

People with mental illness are just as capable of functioning in society as people who don’t have mental illness. I would venture to say the majority of people with mental illness are active in the community, work, pay taxes, drive, and all that other good stuff. Sometimes it takes a while to find the best fitting treatment, but many people are able to manage their symptoms without any inpatient services.

5. People with mental illness are dangerous, out of touch with reality, and unpredictable.

People with mental illness are rarely the perpetrators or violence (only 3-5% of violent crimes). In fact, they are ten times more likely to be the victim of violence than others in the general population. And with that said, they are more often in touch with reality than not.

6. People with mental illness are weak/fragile/can’t handle stress.

I have never met a person with mental illness that I would classify as weak or fragile. Living with, recovering from, and maintaining recovery from mental illness takes so much energy. They are not weak; they are fighters.
And people with who mental illness can handle stress, however they may handle it differently. Excessive stress can potentially trigger symptoms but stress is not the cause of any mental illness.

7. People with mental illness did it to themselves.

NO. Just no.
This is such as horrible mental health myth and I absolutely hate when people make these statements. Because of how detrimental this myth can be, I’ve highlighted the facts in a separate section.

There is absolutely nothing you can do to obtain a mental health diagnosis.
It is not a personality or character flaw.
You did not cause this.
It’s not your fault.
And it is okay to seek help.

8. People with mental illness are that way because they didn’t ___________ enough.

NO. See #7.

9. People with mental illness just need to _____________.

People with mental illness typically benefit most from positive social support and/or professional help rather than unwarranted advice.

10. There is no hope for people with mental illness.

People with mental illness often get better or even recover completely with appropriate support and treatment.

11. Medication is the best treatment. Therapy is a waste of time.

While medication can be the best treatment for some people, most people in general can benefit from therapy. Often people with mental illness benefit from a combination of medication and therapy.

12. All therapy and therapists are the same.

This is another I hear a lot. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I often have to explain what makes me different from other therapists. There are a lot of therapy training programs out there and they can mostly be broken into four groups:

  • Psychologists:
    • Trained in how to administer psychological assessments
    • Focus more on diagnosis and assessment
    • Can provide therapy
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers:
    • Trained primarily in individual therapy
    • Often work in community settings, such as hospitals, schools, and public agencies
    • Think social worker with therapy training
  • Licensed Professional Counselors:
    • Trained in individual and group therapy
    • Broader range of theories and models (types of therapy) to draw from in practice
    • Individual approach to therapy
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists:
    • Extensive training in family dynamics, couples counseling, group counseling, and individual treatment
    • Looks at the family and broad systems when providing therapy

Each of these professions requires a minimum* of a Master’s Degree and can have a variety of specializations (requirements for each profession can vary by state). Each profession has its pros and cons, so I encourage you to look up the credentials of any potential providers and consider what you want to work on or get out of therapy before selecting a therapist.

12. Once you pick a therapist, you’re stuck.

You are welcome to leave any therapist if you do not feel that it is a good fit for you. More than likely, your therapist will not take it personally. It’s pretty likely they noticed it wasn’t a good fit, either. And no one gets in trouble for you advocating for your needs.

Common Mental Health Myths

And there you have the 12 most common mental health myths I have encountered. I’m not an expert by any means, but I hope I can be helpful to you. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me.

What are some common things you’ve heard about mental illness?

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