Facts & Myths

Myth: If I have a mental health problem I should be able to take care of it myself.

Reality: Some mental health problems, such as mild depression or anxiety, can be relieved with support, self-help, and proper care. However, if problems or symptoms persist, a person should consult with their primary doctor or a qualified mental health professional.

Myth: If I have a mental illness, it is a sign of weakness—it’s my fault.

Reality: Mental illness is not anyone’s fault, anymore than heart disease or diabetes is a person’s fault. According to the Surgeon General’s report: “Mental disorders are health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof), associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.”*

Mental illnesses are not a condition that people choose to have or not have. Mental illnesses are not results of willful, petulant behavior. No one should have to feel ashamed of this condition any more than any other medical condition.

Myth: If I seek help for my mental health problem, others will think I am “crazy.”

Reality: No one should delay getting treatment for a mental health problem that is not getting better, just as one would not wait to take care of a medical condition that needed treatment. Some people worry that others will avoid them if they seek treatment for their mental illness. Early treatment can produce better results. Seeking appropriate help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Myth: People diagnosed with a mental illness are always ill and out of touch with reality.

Reality: Most people suffering from even the most severe of mental illnesses are in touch with reality more often than they are not. Many people quietly bear the symptoms of mental illness without ever showing signs of their illness to others, and most people with mental illness live productive, active lives.

Myth: Stress causes mental illness.

Reality: This is only partially true. Stress may occasionally trigger an episode or cause symptoms such as anxiety or depression, but persistent symptoms appear to be biological in nature. There are probably many things that can contribute to mental illness—the cause is not yet fully understood.

Myth: A person can recover from a mental illness by turning his or her thoughts positively and with prayer.

Reality: Recovery is possible when the person receives the necessary treatment and supports. Spirituality can be an important source of strength for some individuals as well.

Myth: People who have a mental illness are dangerous.

Reality: People who have mental illness are no more violent than is someone suffering from cancer or any other serious disease.

Myth: Most people with mental illness live on the streets or are in mental hospitals.

Reality: Over two-thirds of Americans who have a mental illness live in the community and lead productive lives. Most people who need hospitalization are only there for brief periods to get treatment and are then able to return home, just like persons hospitalized for other conditions. Some people with mental illness do become homeless and could benefit from treatment and services.

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