There are many myths and stigmas out there surrounding mental illness. Here is my effort to set them straight.
(See the full article with quotes from me at: Medical Daily).
Myth #1: Mental Illness is a Sign of Weakness
1.) Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. It is an intersection of biology and experience that creates it. Every individual has a different biological makeup and phenomenological reality. Therefore, different individuals are just less prone than others, often by luck or chance. Many times, symptoms of mental illness are the body’s natural, and healthy response to a form of trauma. For instance, a survivor of domestic violence may be diagnosed with depression, PTSD, or anxiety. This is not a sign of weakness. In fact, the individual is probably very strong considering that he or she is a survivor. The diagnoses in this case are a normative and adaptive response to situational trauma.
Myth #2: Mental Illness is an Adult Problem
2.) As a psychotherapist that specializes largely in children, I can attest to this being false. Mental health issues are not solely restricted to the adult population. Children are absolutely capable of experiencing anxiety, depression, and a whole slew of issues. The percentage of children that suffer from mental illness is much higher than we believe it to be. I have worked closely with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to create psychoeducation and support groups for parents of children with mental illness to bring awareness to this very subject.
Myth #3: Therapy is a Waste of Time and Money
3.) Therapy is far from a waste. I have witnessed clients completely turn their lives around as a result of their time in therapy. Many individuals that come to therapy simply do not possess the psycho-education to understand the etiology and root causes of the issues they are suffering from. Therapy provides reassurance that what the person is experiencing is actually probably normative given the circumstances. Validation and self-awareness in a supportive context can be incredibly healing.
Myth #4: People with Mental Illness Never Get Better
4.) Firstly, you do not need to have a mental illness to engage in therapy. I recommend therapy for everyone. It is a workout for the mind, and the mind needs exercise to stay healthy just as much as the body does. Just as you can recover from a physical injury, it is possible to recover from an emotional one. There are indeed some mental illnesses with poor prognoses. In these cases it is less important to look at the term “cure” as a synonym with “completely normative” and more important to look at being cured on a continuum of wellness vs. despair. The cure is relative to the condition, but will almost undoubtedly improve with therapeutic intervention.
Myth #5: People with Mental Illness Can't Work
5.) This stereotype exists because it is believed that those with mental illness may be less fit or less stable to work in certain jobs. This is a common misconception because psycho-education regarding the effects of mental illness is not widely understood. Mental illness can range from virtually undetectable to highly severe. Thus, this cannot be used as such a sweeping generalization.