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16 Wrong Ideas About Mental Illness

Please see an article from Psychology Today on 16 Myths about mental ill health.

It is important to know that many people in society are struggling with their health and that you are not alone. Those who have never suffered from mental ill health should be aware of the myths and stop repeating them.

Mental illness may sometimes be difficult to discuss, in part because friends and family may summon the worst images from the TV and movies. But those depictions often aren't accurate or even likely.

So this post might be useful if you're hearing (or sensing) any of these common, but wrong, ideas. And if you're assuming the worst about a loved one, the good news is that you may be wrong.

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1. Myth: Mental illness is rare. Reality: About one in five experience some form of mental illness in any year. About one in 20 have a serious condition, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.

2. Myth: People with mental illness are always ill. Reality: Even people with severe illnesses such as psychosis may be in touch with reality more often than they are not. Many people quietly navigate their symptoms without showing signs of it to others.

3. Myth: Most people with mental illness live on the streets or are in mental hospitals. Reality: Most Americans who have a mental illness live in the community and lead productive lives. Those who need hospitalization usually stay only for treatment and return home. Some, however, do become homeless.

4. Myth: Mentally ill people are likely to become violent. Reality: People who are out of touch with reality during a mental health crisis are more often frightened, confused, and despairing than violent. Only about 3 percent of people with serious mental illness had committed a violent act within a four-year period, according to one study. If they also had a substance use disorder, the figure rose to 10 percent.

Does that sound high? Many mentally ill people come from neighbourhoods where violence is more common. When mentally ill people are compared with people from their own neighbourhood, research suggests the rates of violence are the same.

Most violent crimes—as much as 95 percent—are committed by people without mental illness. On the other hand, people with severe mental illness are more than 10 times more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than the general population.

5. Myth: Mental illness is solely caused by genetics. Reality: Mental illnesses usually arise out of a mix of causes, including genetics, history, and current environment.

6. Myth: Only kids have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Reality: Symptoms first show up in children but may not have been diagnosed then. They can last into adulthood, and adults may need treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 8 percent of U.S. adults up to age 44 have or will have ADHD at some point.

7. Myth: Schizophrenia refers to a "split personality," and there is no way to control it. Reality: Schizophrenia is often confused with dissociative identity disorder. People with schizophrenia have symptoms ranging from social withdrawal to hallucinations and delusions, which can be managed with therapy and medication. They do not have two identities.

8. Myth: Depression goes along with aging. Reality: People tend to get happier from middle age on. Although some may lead a quieter life over time, when an older person becomes lethargic or withdrawn, it is appropriate to show concern.

9. Myth: Suicides are more common on dark days and in cold months. Reality: It’s true that a lack of sunlight can trigger low mood and a condition called seasonal affective disorder. But suicides peak in the spring and summer, possibly in part because of the inflammation associated with seasonal allergies. Suicides also can increase on sunny days or weeks after a dark spell.

10. Myth: Suicides increase during the winter holidays. Reality: The suicide rate is lowest in November, December and January.

11. Myth: Scandinavians are always gloomy because of their long, dark winters. Reality: Sweden had a high suicide rate in the 1960s but a surge in social welfare and mental health services brought the numbers down dramatically. Finland has also had high rates. Today, Scandinavian countries score high on measures of happiness and have below-average suicide rates. They do, however, have high rates of suicide among young people.

12. Myth: Women and young people are more likely to die by suicide. Reality: Women are more likely to suffer from depression, but the male suicide rate is about 4 times higher. Older Americans have the highest rates. In the latest government figures, Americans aged 15 to 24 did have a high suicide rate, compared to other age groups—more than 19 percent. But it was slightly lower than the rate for 75 to 84-year-olds. People age 85 and up have a suicide rate of 22 percent.

13. Myth: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as “shock treatment,” is painful and barbaric. Reality: Patients who receive ECT are asleep and under anesthesia, so they do not feel anything. It has given new lives to people who suffer from severe depression that has not responded to other treatments.

14. Myth: Depression is caused by a lack of serotonin in the brain. Reality: The popularity of drugs that boost serotonin availability has made this theory influential for decades. But when the drugs work, many say, it’s most likely for other reasons. “The main areas of serotonin research provide no consistent evidence of there being an association between serotonin and depression, and no support for the hypothesis that depression is caused by lowered serotonin activity or concentrations,” a group of British researchers wrote in a July 2022 review. (This doesn't mean anyone should ditch their medication. If it's helping you, you absolutely shouldn't.)

15. Myth: You can’t save people who want to die by suicide because they’ll attempt again. Reality: Nine out of ten people who attempt suicide and survive do not die by suicide later. About 70 percent don’t attempt again. There is always hope for greater well-being—as long as they’re still alive.

16. Myth: Family and friends can’t help someone who is mentally ill. Reality: Many U.S. adults with diagnosable problems don’t receive treatment. That means social support is even more key. You can steer them to mental health services. But even if someone has professional help, you can help by treating them with respect and care. You can help overcome shame and model or suggest coping methods.

Act quickly if you see disturbing signs in a young person. Half of all mental health disorders begin creating symptoms before a person turns 14 years old—and early treatment makes a huge difference.


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