By PRAKASH MASAND M.D.
It is common to hear about a loved one, friend, family member or coworker being treated by a mental health professional, yet many still feel shame about having a mental illness and blame themselves. This cycle of blame does nothing to help the emotional imbalance that is fueling their illness. There are still a lot of misconceptions and myths around mental illness, even though they have been disproved.
Here are some common myths about mental illness and the real truths behind them:
1. Myth: Psychiatric treatment is for weak people, and talk therapy is whining. You just have to get over it!
Truth: This is still one of the most popular myths, by far. Many people continue to feel that psychiatric treatment is not required for many problems. Treatment for psychiatric disorders is just as necessary as it is for other medical disorders, such as diabetes or heart disease. There are a wide range of therapy options that can be best determined by a mental health professional. In some cases, medication is required, while in others, therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, has been shown to be very effective. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help. It is a sign of courage to recognize a problem and try to find a solution. Just as you would not feel bad about going to the doctor if you had an infection, you should never feel bad about seeking help for mental health issues.
2. Myth: You will not achieve your full potential when you have a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or depression.
Truth: From historical times to the present many of the most successful people have had bipolar disorder or depression. Names like Isaac Newton, Winston Churchill, Beethoven, Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey would hardly be seen as underachievers, yet they have all dealt with mental illness at some point in their lives. The reality is that reaching your full potential and being successful is very possible even if you are diagnosed with a mental health issue — provided you seek help.
3. Myth: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is just a poor substitute for discipline and an excuse for bad behavior.
Truth: ADHD is a psychiatric illness with a well-described constellation of symptoms and proven treatments. ADHD is commonly thought of as a childhood disorder and often attributed to a lack of discipline. ADHD can affect people of all ages and can bring about a lack of focus and impulsivity that can cause the afflicted person to suffer. They or their families should recognize the signs of ADHD and seek treatment. This is especially true with children. Treatment helps a child excel in school and adjust in social settings.
4. Myth: All patients with schizophrenia are dangerous.
Truth: Only a very small percentage of schizophrenics are dangerous when left untreated. Schizophrenia is a very serious psychotic disorder, but patients who have it should not necessarily be feared or institutionalized. There are treatment options for schizophrenia, and many with the disorder can lead productive lives with the right treatment.
5. Myth: Suicide is not a problem in the U.S.
Truth: Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2007. Suicide is the most regrettable outcome for far too many people who have found their mental health issues to be too much to bear. It is often preceded for a long time with warning signs. It is so important to seek treatment if you feel like you have too much to cope with. Immediately seek professional help if you or a loved one has suicidal thoughts.
As more people learn about how the brain works, and how it affects our overall health, there will be much less stigma around seeking professional help for mental health issues. It is important to recognize psychological and psychiatric disorders as being just as necessary to treat as any other medical condition. If you, your friends or loved ones are experiencing any mental health issues, seek treatment. There is help available and treatment can help you lead a higher quality and happier life. It’s time for us to move away from the myths and move closer to the solutions.