You probably know that going outside with wet hair will not give you pneumonia, and that if you swallow gum, it will not actually remain in your stomach for seven years. Although these old wives’ tales are prevalent and were once believed, most people now know that they’re not true. When it comes to mental health, however, many people believe myths and misconceptions. This is because there’s a stigma when it comes to mental illness, and there’s a lot of misinformation floating around. In an attempt to help destigmatize mental illness, we’ve put together this list of five common mental health myths and explained why they are false.
Myth #1: Mental Illness Is Uncommon
The first of the mental health myths is that people think it is not common to have a mental illness. This is false. You might not think you know anyone with mental illness, but the fact is that about one in five American adults experiences mental illness in any given year. That means that you almost certainly know someone, and probably quite a few people, who have struggled or who are currently struggling with a mental health disorder. About 20 percent of today’s young teenagers will experience a severe mental health condition at some point during their lives. Your own teen or one of his or her friends might be among them.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also reports that mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder, etc.) are the third-leading cause of hospitalization for both teens and adults up to the age of 44. And over half of children between the ages of 8 and 15 received services for mental health conditions. With that being said, there are many, many people who do not receive the services they need. There’s often a delay of years or even decades between when symptoms first appear and when people finally get treatment. If you think that you or your teen needs mental health treatment, seek it promptly; don’t wait.
Myth #2: Mental Health Conditions in Teens Is Related to Poor Parenting
Another of the mental health myths is that many parents (and non-parents) believe that mental illness in children and teens is related to poor parenting. You might hear someone say that a teen is suffering from depression because their parents spoiled them or didn’t give them enough attention. The parent of an anxious child might be accused of being a helicopter parent. The truth is, these assumptions are not only unfair, but also untrue.
Mental health conditions can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including:
- chemical imbalances
- physical health problems
- psychological differences
- social factors
Many teens with mental health disorders have loving and appropriately affectionate and protective parents. And many teens who live in families who are not loving or who are too overprotective or not affectionate do not go on to have mental health issues. Parenting skills and mental health conditions are not usually related.
Myth #3: Teens With Mental Illness Will Have Trouble Functioning as Adults
You might be concerned that a teen with a mental health condition will not be able to go on to live a normal adult life. You may worry that he or she will never hold down a job, get married, buy a house, or have children. Most of the time, mental health conditions can be treated with a combination of therapy and medication. If a person with even severe mental illness follows their treatment plan, there’s a good chance that they will be able to live a normal, productive life. Those with milder mental health conditions are very likely to thrive and live a happy life. Remember that one in five adults has struggled with mental illness; the vast majority of these people hold jobs, have homes, have relationships, and may have children.
Myth #4: Mental Illness Is Caused by Personal Weakness
Just as you would not accuse someone with diabetes, cancer, or a sinus infection of being too weak to fend off their illness, you should not assume that a person with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any other mental health conditions did something wrong or was unable to cope with the rigors of life. Mental illness is not caused by personal weakness; it’s caused by biological factors, life experiences, and, in some cases, genetics.
Unfortunately, mental health conditions still carry a stigma and some people believe that they can simply live with their disorders. It’s important to seek help if you are experiencing troubling psychological symptoms. There’s no need to live with (or expect your child to live with) intrusive thoughts, high levels of anxiety, depression, or other mental health symptoms. To do so could lead to suicidal thoughts and follow-through.
Myth #5: Mental Health Disorders Cannot Be Treated
Perhaps one of the most prevalent of the mental health myths is that they can’t be effectively treated. Many people with mental illness are able to get past the acute phase of their condition and live normally after that. Those with severe conditions might need to stay on medication and/or attend counseling for many years or even for a lifetime, but these people can also usually live full lives with their treatment.
There are a variety of excellent treatments for various conditions. A mental health specialist can prescribe medications that will ease the symptoms of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and many other illnesses. There are also a variety of therapies available, from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for people with post-traumatic stress disorder. Sometimes therapies and medications need to be changed and tweaked over time, and sometimes people can learn how to live without ongoing treatment, depending on their conditions.
Hopefully, debunking a few of these common mental health myths allows you to see mental illness in a different light. If you have questions or concerns about your own or your child’s mental health, the best thing to do is visit your family doctor. He or she can answer your questions and perform a screening to see if you need a referral to a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Remember that mental health issues are treatable and that you or your child can live a normal, healthy life even while dealing with the disorder. If it’s your teen who is struggling with a mental health issue, you might also benefit from getting counseling for yourself. Reach out and depend on the mental health experts in your area for support as you learn to navigate the situation.