Common misconceptions about mental illness

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One of the things that we face as a society are persistent misconceptions about mental illness. The stigma that surrounds the mentally ill is rife with them, but simple education is often enough to cause people to reconsider the falsehoods they've been told to believe.

Here are a few common misconceptions about mental illness and the truth that exposes them for what they are.

Mental disorders are signs of weakness.

This is a common thread. It stems from many historical accounts and mythological stories about those who "overcome" their apparent mental illness to triumph without need for treatment or "babying." This misconception is especially common in regards to illnesses like chronic depression, anxiety, and similar ailments.

The belief is that all that the person needs is enough willpower to overcome the problem. The reality? Not so fast.

Willpower does play a role, of course, but not in the way this misconception would make it seem. Instead, the willpower to find help, the tenacity to stay with treatment, and the hard work required to overcome a mental illness is far more willful than the "just will it away and it will go away" crowd would ever believe.

Mental disorders make people violent.

This one continues to be propagated by the popular media, who jump on any human-caused tragedy as a means to use mental illnesses (real or contrived) as the apparent justification for the person's actions. The violent shooter who killed half a dozen in the mall? Obviously a mental case. Right?

Not necessarily. In fact, statistically, mass murderers are rarely, if ever, diagnosed with any sort of illness before they commit their acts of murder. Most of these so-called diagnoses come after the fact, usually by professed experts who are diagnosing from afar or even after the killer's own death.

The truth is, violence is a part of human nature. Do these mass murderers and killers have higher rates of mental illness than do the rest of the population? Nobody knows because it's not possible to study that. If anything, assuming mental illness does play a role in these mass murders and human-caused tragedies, it's a testament to the lack of treatment options more than it is to how violent mental illnesses could be making people.

In truth, statistically, the mentally ill and handicapped are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. There is also evidence that some of the pharmaceuticals mis-applied to mental illnesses (through either self-medication or misdiagnosis) could be more to blame than the mental illnesses themselves.1

Healthy people aren't affected by trauma.

The idea that "strong" people can shake off trauma and return to normality afterwards and that only the weak become post-traumatic is ludicrous. While the military has proven that some trauma can be prepared for, reducing possible trauma-related mental illness later, this training is only marginally effective.

Rates of PTSD and other disorders from traumatic events witnessed by even highly-trained military personnel is becoming higher and higher over time. It's becoming apparent that the supposed training to offset trauma-based mental illness is merely delaying the onset of those illnesses rather than preventing it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is fast becoming the top mental illness associated with military service and service in other careers in which traumatic events are common place (police, fire, paramedics, etc). The United States and Canadian militaries have reached a point where half of all veterans commit suicide rather than die of natural causes.2


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