Mental illness stigma can lead to a multitude of false beliefs — and it’s about time to set the record straight. Negative stereotypes create a lot of misconceptions, which further alienate people in a community that already feels isolated.
The many fallacies that surround mental health disorders can make managing them all the more difficult — after all, research suggests stigma acts as a barrier to treatment. Below are just a few of the myths no one should believe about mental illness.
Myth 1: It’s contagious.
To bust this myth, it’s important to understand the difference between feelings and mental health disorders. Mental illness sufferers experience a spectrum of emotions, but this is a byproduct of brain chemistry and other possible factors that led to a diagnosis.
Though studies suggest that emotions — particularly stressful ones — are contagious, mental illness is not. It does not operate the same as the cold or flu, circulating through a scientific process of spreading germs.
Despite this knowledge, many people still believe mental illness can be spread. A 2014 paper published in the journal Memory & Cognition found that people believe mental illness can be communicable from one person to another. This belief is unfounded and most certainly false, not to mention it could also lead to feelings of isolation for those who have mental illness.
Myth 2: Mental illness is an indication of violence.
Many people still blame mental illness for horrific tragedies like the recent shooting of two journalists in Virginia, perpetuating a stigma that’s not easy to shed. But here’s the reality: A mental health disorder does not mean that someone is going to commit a violent act. In fact, a 2014 study found that people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than the ones committing them.
Myth 3: It’s uncommon.
Wrong. Approximately one in four people worldwide will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life. That makes it very likely that someone you know will suffer from a psychological disorder.
Myth 4: Mental illness is “all in your head.”
There’s still a common belief in society that someone with anxiety can “just calm down” or someone with depression can “snap out of it,” as if they can choose to have an episode come or go. That’s simply not true. There are very real physical symptoms. Someone who suffers from depression may see changes in appetite, headaches and indigestion and someone who experiences anxiety may endure cardiovascular problems, stomach issues and a weakened immune system.
Myth 5: You can’t recover from mental health issues.
Mental illness isn’t one-size-fits-all, which means treatment varies for everyone. Therapy, medications and outside support are all useful tools in managing a mental health disorder and helping an individual lead a healthy and productive life.
“Depression is a treatable disorder,” HuffPost’s mental health editor Lloyd Sederer, the medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, wrote in a blog last year. “Like any serious illness, it takes comprehensive, ongoing, scientifically based care, an effective working patient-clinician relationship, and the support and patience of loving others.”
Myth 6: Mental illness stems from a bad childhood.
Life circumstances certainly can play a role, but other factors also have an influence on mental health disorders. Take anxiety, for example: “It’s not that having a difficult childhood is completely unrelated, but having a difficult childhood can be related to all kinds of things, not just anxiety,” Joseph Bienvenu, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University, previously told HuffPost. “Some people have great childhood and still have anxiety.”
Research suggests that some mental health disorders may be caused by chemical imbalances in the body. Seasonal Affective Disorder, which affects nearly 10 million people at certain points of the year, fluctuates based on seasonal changes.
Myth 7: You can’t help someone suffering from a mental health disorder.
Loved ones are paramount in helping someone with a mental illness get treatment. According to a recent nationwide mental health analysis, social support plays a large role when it comes to intervening or preventing suicide.
“It requires a little reflection and thought to be supportive,” Gregory Dalack, chair of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, previously told HuffPost. “Family members, friends and significant others have an opportunity to help in a way that’s not judgmental — even if it’s just helping them get to appointments, take medications or stick to a daily routine.”