Even as mental health becomes less of a taboo subject these days, many people still have misconceptions about what mental health is. A cloud still surrounds mental health issues, especially regarding those people who suffer from some form of mental illness. So what is fact, and what is fiction?

Fiction: Mentally ill people are choosing to be that way

Fact: Many factors come into play in mental illness, including genetics, brain chemistry, injury, and life experiences.  Soldiers returning from war and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would hardly choose to re-visit their experiences over and over, but they do as a result of their mental illness. Parents would not choose their depression over their children, and yet it may be incapacitating. Mental illness is not a choice.

Fiction: Mental illness doesn’t concern me because it doesn’t affect me

Fact: The mental health website of the U.S. government cites the following statistics from 2011:

  • One in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental health issue
  • One in ten young people experienced a period of major depression
  • One in 20 people in the U.S. lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression

Additionally, twice the number of people commits suicide in the United States (38,000) as are killed as a result of homicide annually. This is a staggering loss of life and will, at some point, affect you.

Fiction: People with mental health issues are too lazy to work and are violent

Fact: With effective treatment, people with mental health challenges can be just as productive and gainfully employed as someone who does not suffer from a mental illness. Mental illness is not a character flaw or a trait that compromises productivity, nor are mentally ill people unusually violent. Only 3-5% of mentally ill people display violent tendencies, but mentally ill people are more likely themselves to be victims of violence. Turns out, mentally healthy people are a bigger threat!

Fiction: There is no helping mental illness, and therapy is a waste of time

Fact: A combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, and possibly prescription medication has been proven effective at managing mental illness. Some types of mental illness, such as PTSD and post-partum depression, can be episodic in nature, brought on by trauma and childbirth. With a combination of approaches, mental illness can be successfully treated and potentially eliminated in a person’s life. Friends, family, and community play a large part in the recovery of a person suffering from mental illness; their support is crucial during this time, and many people recover completely with their help.

Fiction: Mental illness is inevitable, and there is no preventing it

Fact: While some mental illness is a direct result of brain chemistry, many mental illnesses can be prevented or addressed early by providing kids and teens with a supportive, productive environment. Kids who grow up with a network of trusted adults have a better chance of maintaining their mental health as they grow. Additionally, eliminating risk factors such as potential for abuse or trauma contributes greatly to prevention of mental illness. Not every child grows up in a stable family environment, so it is important that our communities rally around our kids. Now more than ever, it does take a village! 

What are some of your beliefs about mental illness?

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