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Myths & Facts about Mental Illness

Misconceptions about mental illness are pervasive and the lack of understanding can have serious consequences for millions of people who have psychiatric illnesses. Do you know the difference between fact and myth?

MYTH: Mental illness is rare

FACT: Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. In any given year, more than five million Americans experience an acute episode of mental illness.

MYTH: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw. People who are depressed can just snap out of it if they try hard enough.

FACT: A depressive disorder is an illness involving your body, mood and thoughts. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. It has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function, and medication and/or psychotherapy often helps people to recover. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks and even years.

MYTH: People with severe mental illness are usually dangerous and violent.

FACT: Individuals with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator. People suffering from psychiatric disorders tend to be passive and avoid others. Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people who have a brain disorder is not much higher than it is in the general population. Those suffering from a psychosis such as schizophrenia are more often frightened, confused and despairing than violent.

MYTH: Asking a person about suicide will only increase their risk.

FACT: Asking someone directly about suicide intent lowers anxiety, opens up communication and lowers the risk of an impulsive act.

MYTH: Children do not experience mental health problems.

FACT: Even very young children may show early warning signs of mental health concerns. These mental health problems are often clinically diagnosable, and can be a product of the interaction of biological, psychological and social factors. Half of all mental health disorders show first signs before a person turns 14, and three-quarters of mental health disorders begin before age 24. Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need. Early mental health support can help a child before problems interfere with other developmental needs.

MYTH: There is no hope or recovery for someone with a mental illness.

FACT: Studies show that people with mental health disorders get better and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities. There are more treatments, services, and community support systems than ever before, and they work.