When it comes to mental illness, myths and misinformation abound. When is the last time you heard a “joke” or a wisecrack aimed at someone with a mental illness? The jokes and wisecracks aren’t helpful, but may be our way of dealing with something uncomfortable that, until we face it first hand, we know little about.
For example, a new father may not know anything about depression until he watches his wife wade through the dark waters of post-partum depression. Parents of an older teen likely laughed at jokes about schizophrenia until their family was torn apart by their son’s diagnosis. A tight-knit group of co-workers probably never gave bipolar disorder a second thought until one of their cohorts began to struggle with signs of the illness.
It’s human nature: Most of us know little about something until we come face-to-face with it. Until then, it’s easier to believe myths than to seek out accurate information.
Here are some of the common myths and realities:
- Myth: People with mental illness are poor and/or less intelligent.
Reality: Many studies show that most people with a mental illness have average or above-average intelligence. Mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class, or income level.
- Myth: Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness.
Reality: Mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness, and it has nothing to do with being weak or lacking willpower. Although people with mental illnesses can play a big part in their own recovery, they did not choose to become ill and they are not lazy because they cannot just "snap out of it."
- Myth: If I seek help for a mental health issue, others might think I’m a wimp or even crazy.
Reality: Seeking appropriate help is a sign of strength, not weakness. No one should delay getting treatment for a mental health problem that is not getting better, just as no one should wait to take care of a physical condition that needs treatment. The wisest, most courageous way to cope is to seek help because early treatment can produce more positive results.
- Myth: Mental illness is a single, rare disorder.
Reality: Mental illness is not a single disease but a broad classification for many disorders. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders, and attention deficit disorders have been life-altering for millions of Canadians.
- Myth: People with mental illness are violent and dangerous.
Reality: As a group, people with a mental illness are no more violent than any other group. In fact, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than to be violent themselves.
- Myth: People with mental illness never get better.
Reality: With the right kind of help, people with mental illnesses do recover and go on to lead healthy, productive lives. While the illness may not go away, the symptoms associated with it can be controlled.