Mental Illness: Myths and Facts

The stigma around mental health is fueled by a number of myths—here, we tackle some of them with facts
Mental Illness: Myths and Facts

Myth: There’s no such thing as mental illness, people fake it.

Fact: Mental illness is real. Just like physical illness affects parts of our body, mental illness affects the brain. For example, depression is caused due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, which in turn can lead to symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, and lack of motivationthings that impact the person’s quality of life. Mental illness, like physical illness, requires treatment for the symptoms to decrease or stop entirely, and for the individual’s condition to improve.

Myth: I will never have mental health issues because

  • It only affects poor people

  • I’m too strong-minded

  • I have a positive outlook in life

Fact: Anyone can be at risk of developing mental health issues regardless of their age, economic strata, culture, or the community they belong to. Mental health issues don’t have anything to do with a person’s mental strength, personality traits, or outlook. They can be caused due to a combination of social, genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. We must take mental health seriously and understand ways of preventing, treating and coping with it.

Myth: Mental health issues cannot be treated or prevented.

Fact: Most mental health issues can be treated if they are diagnosed early and appropriate treatment is given. In other cases, treatment is provided to mitigate the impact of a serious mental illness so the person can take better control of their life. Successful recovery from mental illness also depends on whether the person has access to a strong support systemin the form of their family, friends for instancethat is aware and well-informed about mental health issues.

Some mental health issues can be prevented by controlling or altering socio-economic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. For example, substance abuse can be prevented by making sure that the person is living in a healthy environment.

Myth: People with mental illnesses are violent and need to be hospitalized or locked up in an asylum.

Fact: There is rampant stigma surrounding people living with mental illnesses (psychosocial disabilities); they are often viewed as violent and in need of segregation from society. But in reality, a person’s mental illness might not consistently be of the same intensity and mental illnesses can be managed without hospitalization.

For example, in case of a person living with high blood pressure; as long as they’re able to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take the right medication, their condition will not worsen. But when they are facing a health crisis like a cardiac arrest there is a need for hospitalization.

Similarly, when it comes to mental illness, a person is hospitalized only if they are a danger to themselves or others due to self-harm tendencies or severe emotional dysregulation.

it is useful to recognize that people living with a mental illness are not constantly in a high crisis spacemany people who are unable to access treatment, or those who do take medication and/or access therapy do so while being an active part of their communities, having jobs, and forming healthy relationships.

Read more about psychiatric hospitalization here

Myth: Mental health issues occur when the devil or a departed soul enters the body.

Fact: This is perhaps the oldest myth about mental illness. Mental health issues are caused due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Endorsing such myths leads to people seeking treatment through faith healersthis can lead to their symptoms and difficulties being prolonged, it also contributes to the stigma around mental health issues.

Myth: You need to consult a psychiatrist for all your mental health problems. Therapy and counseling don’t really work.

Fact: Psychiatrists are mental health experts who you can consult for mental health issues. They are doctors trained in psychiatry and can diagnose mental illnesses, prescribe medication for it, as well as what is the best course of treatment for the client. That said, you can consult other professionals such as clinical psychologists, counselors and therapists for mental health issues. Each type of mental health professional offers a different kind of service.

Therapy and counseling are an integral part of the recovery process of most mental health issues; not all mental illnesses require medication. Most mental illnesses are treated using therapy and counseling because medication tends to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying issue. Therapy and counseling techniques are arrived at with the same amount of scientific research as prescription drugs and they have been proven to help in the recovery of a person with mental illness.

Read more about psychotherapy here

Myth: People with mental health issues can overcome what they’re experiencing by controlling their minds. There’s nothing that can be done to help them.

Fact: How a person recovers from a mental illness, or is able to cope depends on their willingness to access treatment and get better. While that’s the case, a mental health issue can’t be handled by a person controlling their own mind. Many mental health issues cause negative thought and behavior patterns which are not in control of the person suffering from them. These thought patterns need to be unlearnt and replaced with positive ones through scientifically-researched psychotherapy; and in certain casesmedication, to control chemical imbalances in the brain.

This does not mean that there is nothing we can doin the capacity of a caregiver or allyto help. We can play a crucial role in the recovery of our loved ones who suffer from mental health issues. One of the most important needs of a person with a mental health issue, is having a supportive and understanding environment. Assuring a loved one that we are there for them and accepting them as they are can make them feel secure, and aid in their recovery.

Another way in which we can help people with mental health issues is, to create a society free of stigma. To do this we must empower ourselves with the right knowledge about mental health, practice empathy, and create spaces where people can open up about their mental health issues, and not be judged for seeking help or wanting to.

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