Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

Many people with mental illness say that the stigma that surrounds mental illness is harder to live with than the disease itself.

Here are some myths, beliefs, and perceptions about mental disorders:

1) People should work out their own mental health problems.
Not true. When people have a physical health concern, they generally take some action, and often go to the doctor or seek some other kind of help for their problem. Mental illness is associated with disturbances with brain functioning and usually requires professional assistance. Because of the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people have been reluctant to seek help.

2) Once you have a mental illness, you have it for life.
While it’s true that most mental illnesses are lifelong, they are often episodic, which means that the symptoms are not always present. Just like people who live with chronic physical illnesses like asthma or arthritis, people with mental illnesses can, when their illness is managed, live positive and productive lives.

3) Females are more likely to have a mental illness than males.
In general, men and women are both equally affected by mental illnesses, but there may be higher rates among women with specific illnesses such as eating disorders.
While men have higher rates for some disorders such as alcoholism and ADHD, there may sometimes be higher rates in women for other disorders such as depression. Some illnesses are relatively equally shared by both men and women (e.g. bipolar disorder).

4) Medication is the best treatment for mental illness.
Medication can be a very effective part of managing a mental illness; it is helpful to think of medications as necessary but not sufficient treatments for many mental disorders. The best approach is to have a combination of strategies that have been proven effective.

5) People with a mental illness are generally violent and dangerous.
Mental illness plays no part in the majority of violent crimes committed in our society because people with mental illness are generally not more violent than the rest of the population.

6) Adults are more likely than teenagers to have a mental illness.
Many of the major mental illnesses begin to appear during adolescence and early adulthood.

7) You can by looking at someone whether they have a mental illness.
Generally, based on their appearance, you can’t tell if a person has a mental illness. Sometimes, when people are experiencing an acute episode of their illness, their behavior may be bizarre, especially if they are experiencing an episode of psychosis.

8) People with mental illness are generally shy and quiet.
There is no strong causal relationship between personality characteristics and tendency to develop mental illness. Some mental disorders such as depression and anxiety can lead people to avoid or limit social contact.

9) Mental illness can happen to anybody.
This is correct. In fact, it very likely that you, a family member or someone you’re close to will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.