Mental Health Myths and Facts

Myth: Mental illness is uncommon.

Fact: Every month approximately 3.6% of U.S. adults undergo serious psychological distress. In 2014, 1 in 5 U.S adults experienced a mental health issue. Major depression affects 1 out of 10 youth. Serious mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression) affect 1 out of 25 Americans.1

Annually, there are approximately 61.7 million visits to physicians with mental health disorder as a primary diagnosis. Emergency departments see approximately 4.7 million visits annually with mental health disorder as a primary diagnosis.2 Mental illness is often invisible; however, it is not uncommon.

Myth: Mental illnesses is a character of moral defect.

Fact:There is evidence to show that many mental illnesses have biological and genetic underpinnings that are influenced by life circumstances and events. There are many life events or circumstances, for instance trauma, loss, abuse, poverty, racism, minority status, sexism, violence, displacement, and chronic stress, that can contribute to rates of mental illness. Many factors that influence mental illness are beyond an individual’s control. In other instances, mental disorder can be present in the earliest years of life, long before the development of character and moral reasoning.

Mental illness is complex. Though many risk factors have been identified, what causes it is not fully understood. A generalization about character or morality is neither sufficient nor explanatory.

Myth: Mental illness is a social construction, not a legitimate illness or condition.

Fact: Though mental illness is defined within society, a culture, and a time period, historical evidence shows the persistence of mental illness dating back centuries, and contemporary world-wide statistics show that it occurs globally. Studies comparing the brain of those with mental illness and those without have shown differences in activity, structure, and development. Mental illness is real, though society and culture can shape how it is expressed and lived.

Myth: The mentally ill are dangerous and/or violent.

Fact: Statistically, mentally ill individuals are no more likely to be violent than anyone else.3 In fact, the majority of the mentally ill are ten times more likely to be the victims of violence, or have histories of abuse and violence than the non-ill population.

Myth: People should “just snap out of it.”

Fact:Though most people are familiar with experiences of anxiety, sadness, stress, or general forms of mental difficulty in their lives, for some the severity of these thoughts and moods is so severe and persistent it affects important aspects of their life in negative ways. Many people with mental illness are doing the best they can to manage or improve their mental health, yet symptoms still persist.

Myth: It’s a lifestyle problem.

Fact:Though continued effort at behavioral change, healthy eating, and adequate exercise can improve the symptoms of some conditions for some people, it does not cure mental disorder. Mental illnesses are complicated, with many contributing variables. Even though there is some correlation between mental health and lifestyle choices, it is generally not the sole cause of a person's mental health issues.

Myth: Talk therapy is a waste of time.

Fact:Psychotherapy is a valuable intervention for many, but not all, diagnoses of mental illness. Research has shown that “there is a growing body of evidence that psychotherapy is cost-effective, reduces disability, morbidity, and mortality, improves work functioning, [and] decreases use of psychiatric hospitalization...”4 There are varied forms of psychotherapy, and those considering it as a treatment option should inquire into the effectiveness of the methods used, as well as the possible pros and cons for their specific circumstances and/or diagnosis.

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