Myths About Mental Illness

In this blog, I would like to explore four myths or misperceptions about mental illness that I have encountered.

Myth #1: There’s no such thing…It’s all in your head. Some question whether mental illnesses really exist, perhaps because the exact biological causes of these illness have not not been identified. But we don’t know the exact biological cause of most headaches either—that doesn’t mean that headaches don’t exist. If people believe that a mental illness not real, then they will tell you to snap out of it. This is hurtful because the implication is that you are weak, or have a defect in character, or are faking symptoms to get attention. The fact is that these illnesses are not much different than so called physical illnesses.They both have symptoms with a typical course and outcome, they often run in families and they do respond to specific treatments. Depression, anxiety, psychosis–all the psychiatric disorders are real illnesses, every bit as real as any other illness.

Myth #2: Mental Illness is Rare. Because of the stigma that been associated with mental illness, few people discuss their symptoms openly with family and friends. But in 1999 the Surgeon General of the US. published a report on the nations mental health which stated that nearly half of ALL adult Americans-have had symptoms of mental illness at one time or another, and about one in four are in counseling, or using medication in any given year. You are not alone.

Myth #3: If you have a mental illness, you must be crazy, lazy or dangerous. Mental illness is rarely discussed in the media and when it is, it is only the mostly dramatic and violent cases. So it is easy to think that all people with mental illness are crazy or dangerous. The fact is that the vast majority of those who suffer from a mental illness are no more dangerous than you or I. The people I met during my recent stay in a psychiatric ward and in my current outpatient day treatment program are just like me. Thus, there is no shame in suffering from the symptoms of a mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks or bipolar disorder.

Myth #4: Psychiatric diagnoses are unreliable and suspect. Let me begin by saying that the purpose of a mental health diagnosis is not to label a person but to find the right treatment. The reliability of psychiatric diagnoses is no better or worse than the reliability of other medical diagnoses. Often, people struggling with severe symptoms have difficulty expressing the entirety of their experience, or they are embarrassed and fearful about opening up about their symptoms. They also may have dramatically different internal experiences at different times, and so the diagnosis that a clinician records may vary from one episode to another or even from one clinician to another. For example, during my breakdowns of 1996 and 2015, two competent psychiatrists differed in my diagnosis, one saying it was agitated depression and that I should take antidepressants and the other saying it was bipolar 2 and I should take mood stabilizers. There is a fine line between these two diagnoses, and so the difference of opinion can be expected.

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