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Myths about mental illness


(HealthDay News) -- Misinformation abounds in the world of mental illness. According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, common myths and the factual information about them include:

Myth: Mental illnesses don't affect me.

Fact: Mental illness is surprisingly common, affecting almost every family in the United States. Mental illnesses do not discriminate; they can affect anyone.

Myth: There's no hope for people with mental illnesses.

Fact: There are more treatments, services and community support systems than ever before, and more are in the works. People with mental illnesses lead active, productive lives.

Myth: People with mental illnesses are violent and unpredictable.

Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health conditions are no more violent than anyone else. People with mental illnesses are much more likely to be the victims of crime.

Myth: Mental illness is the same as mental retardation.

Fact: These are different conditions. Mental retardation is characterized by limitations in intellectual functioning and difficulties with certain daily living skills. In contrast, people with mental illnesses -- health conditions that cause changes in a person's thinking, mood and behavior -- have varied intellectual functioning, just like the general population.

Myth: Mental illnesses are brought on by a weakness of character.

Fact: Mental illness is a product of the interaction of biological, psychological and social factors. Social influences, like the loss of a loved one or a job, can also contribute to the development of various mental health problems.

Myth: Once people develop mental illnesses, they will never recover.

Fact: Studies show that most people with mental illnesses get better, and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn and participate fully in their communities. For some individuals, recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life. For others, recovery implies the reduction or complete remission of symptoms. Science has shown that hope plays an integral role in an individual's recovery.

Myth: People with mental illnesses cannot tolerate the stress of holding down a job.

Fact: All jobs are stressful to some extent. Anybody is more productive when there's a good match between the employee's needs and the working conditions -- which applies equally to workers who have a mental health problem and those who do not.

Myth: Children don't experience mental illnesses. Their actions are just products of bad parenting.

Fact: A report from the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health showed that, in any given year, 5 to 9 percent of children experience serious emotional disturbances. Just like adult mental illnesses, these are clinically diagnosable health conditions that are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological and social factors.

Myth: I can't do anything for a person with mental illness.

Fact: You can do a lot, starting with how you act and speak. You can create an environment that builds on people's strengths and promotes understanding. For example:

  • Don't label people with words like "crazy," "wacko" or "loony" or define them by their diagnosis. Instead of saying someone is "a schizophrenic," say that he or she "has schizophrenia." Don't say "a schizophrenic person," say "a person with schizophrenia." This is called "people-first" language, and it's important to make a distinction between the person and the illness.
  • Learn the facts about mental health and share them with others, especially if you hear something that isn't true.
  • Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity, just as you would anybody else.
  • Respect the rights of people with mental illnesses and don't discriminate against them when it comes to housing, employment or education. Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health problems are protected under federal and state laws.

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