There is a lot of myths surrounding mental illness. These myths encourage judgement and discrimination not only of the people who have mental disorders but also of their families and mental health specialists. Myths often appear due to negative beliefs that are not based on objective reasons – stigma. Consequently, individuals who experience mental health problems tend to be discriminated. Moreover, stigma creates shame and fears of losing a job and being rejected by the society if one has a mental illness. These feelings and intolerance often discourage the individuals who need mental health support to seek it from the specialists and complicate an effective treatment of the disorder in a supportive environment.
For these and other reasons, it is very important to question current stereotypes of mental illness and to destroy the myths using facts. Thus, we invite you to explore how much truth there is in eight myths about mental health problems that often occur in everyday life.
MYTH NO. 1: a person with a mental illness is “different”
FACTS: The symptoms of all mental health disorders depend on the type of the disorder and individual patient. Mental health illness can affect thinking, perception and mood of a person that experiences such a condition; however, these symptoms do not make this person “different” from others. The change in a person is only caused by the symptoms which can be managed and, most importantly, some of them can be permanently cured.
MYTH NO. 2: People with mental disorders are violent and dangerous to the general public
FACTS: The diagnosis of mental health disorder is not a strong indicator for violent behaviour. Using the data of one million Americans, it has been calculated that gender, age and nationality are better indicators for violence than mental health illness (1). According to the statistical data of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, only 4% of violent incidents in the society were related to mental health disorders. The rest 96% of violent events happened because of other various reasons (2).
MYTH NO. 3: People have mental illnesses because of personal weaknesses
FACTS: Mental health disorders are not a consequence of weak character. The development of these disorders is not caused by a single factor, but rather by the combination of different factors. There is a high variety of these factors and they differ depending on a mental health illness; yet they can be classified into two categories: biological and environmental (nature and nurture).
- Instances of biological influences: genetic susceptibility, abnormal biochemical mechanisms of brain activity, imbalance of hormones or certain brain pathologies.
- Possible environmental influences: psychological childhood traumas, complications during gestation period or birth, social isolation, bad habits (such as poor sleep hygiene or bad eating habits), high consumption of alcohol or narcotic drugs, frequent stress, and many others.
MYTH NO. 4: Children and teenagers do not experience mental health problems
FACTS: Quite the opposite! The majority of mental health issues start at a young age. Around 10 - 20% of all youth worldwide have mental health illnesses (3). In fact, 50% of all cases of mental health disorders start in childhood by 14 years of age, while even 75% of all mental illness cases are diagnosed by 24 years of age (4). Unfortunately, many of the mental health problems tend to be unnoticed and untreated in young age. Belated diagnosis and treatment can have negative consequences to the progression of the illness.
MYTH NO. 5: One cannot recover from a mental health problem and return to a “normal” life
FACTS: It is possible to recover completely from some mental health disorders and not to experience these problems ever again (5). Even so, in order to get well, it is essential to reach out for professional help and complete a course of treatment. However, many mental health disorders are chronic just like numerous physiological illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and others, are. Nonetheless, in most cases, the symptoms of chronic mental disorders are not constant, i.e. there are long periods during which patients don’t experience any symptoms (6). During periods when symptoms do manifest, a person can still lead normal life if the symptoms are controlled with appropriate treatment.
MYTH NO. 6: Mental health disorders are rare
FACTS: Mental health disorders are quite common, and not only in Lithuania but in the whole world too. According to 2017 data, around 10.7% of people world-wide have mental health disorders (7). If we take a look at Lithuania – the situation doesn’t look better. As reported by the National mental health center, almost every third person in Lithuania has or have had mental or behavioural disorders (8), whereas around 10% of the Lithuanian population is depressed (9). A survey which involved 150 participants from various workplaces and was carried in Lithuania in 2019 has revealed similar results (10). 33.1% of the respondents stated that at some point in their lives they had experienced mental health problems.
MYTH NO. 7: People with mental health problems cannot work
FACTS: A person who has a mental health illness is not less intelligent or less competent than the rest of society. If the symptoms deteriorate, a person might need to temporarily shorten working hours or to take a break from work. Nevertheless, when symptoms ease or disappear an individual can continue to work productively.
Looking at the aspect that is important for employment - capability to work, research performed by the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development, which analysed 50-64 year old population, has shown mental health problems in the majority of patients are not disabling (11). In comparison with the general population in which 94.3% of people are not considered disabled, 82.3% of people with moderate mental health problems and 65.1% with severe problems have no disability.
In fact, the majority of people with mental illnesses do have jobs, yet the rate of employment is significantly lower compared to the employment level of other people (11). The rate of employment of people with mild or moderate mental problems is approximately 60-70%, while the employment of the general population is 10-15% higher. The level of employment of people with severe mental illness is much lower (around 45-55%).
MYTH NO. 8: Surrounding people cannot help a person who suffers from a mental illness
FACTS: Every one of us can somehow help a person who is in need of support. Some simple yet significant actions such as sincere listening, checking up on a person, being nonjudgmental, providing emotional support or just spending some time together might make a positive change in life of a person with mental health problems. Research shows that support from friends and family increases the chances of recovery from mental health illnesses (12, 13). Additionally, a wider and more fulfilling social network also enhances goal pursuit and motivation of a person with a mental disorder (14). Moreover, a supportive social environment encourages reaching out for professional help earlier and subsequently helps prevent deterioration of untreated symptoms.
Let’s change our subconscious stereotypes about mental health by choosing information based on facts, not myths! In this way, each of us can contribute to breaking the stigma, what would help people from our environment to share about mental health difficulties without fear, seek help in time and be part of the society that does not discriminate.
The article was prepared on behalf of INA by Kristina Sveistyte
Cover design created by Adele Tiuchtaite
1. Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2005). Findings from the National Comorbidity Survey on the frequency of violent behavior in individuals with psychiatric disorders. Psychiatry research, 136(2-3), 153-162. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2005.06.005)
2. Swanson, J. W., McGinty, E. E., Fazel, S., & Mays, V. M. (2015). Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy. Annals of epidemiology, 25(5), 366-376. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annepidem.2014.03.004)
3. Kessler, R. C., Angermeyer, M., Anthony, J. C., De Graaf, R. O. N., Demyttenaere, K., Gasquet, I., ... & Uestuen, T. B. (2007). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of mental disorders in the World Health Organization's World Mental Health Survey Initiative. World psychiatry, 6(3), 168. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2174588/)
4. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602. (https://doi.org/doi:10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.593)
5. Salzer, M. S., Brusilovskiy, E., & Townley, G. (2018). National estimates of recovery-remission from serious mental illness. Psychiatric services, 69(5), 523-528. (https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ps.201700401)
6. AlAqeel, B., & Margolese, H. C. (2013). Remission in schizophrenia: critical and systematic review. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 20(6), 281-297. (https://doi.org/10.3109/10673229.2012.747804)
7. Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2018). Mental Health. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved March 2021 from https://ourworldindata.org/mental-health
8. Valstybinis psichikos sveikatos centras (2020). Psichikos ir elgesio sutrikimų statistika. Retrieved March 2021 from https://vpsc.lrv.lt/lt/statistika/psichikos-ir-elgesio-sutrikimu-statistika
9. Liaugaudaite, V., Zemaitiene, N., & Bunevicius, A. Suicide and Depression: Epidemiology in Lithuania. BIOLOGICAL PSYCHIATRY AND PSYCHOPHARMACOLOGY. (http://biological-psychiatry.eu/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/BPP_May2020_3to10.pdf)
10. Enrikas Etneris, Monika Nedzinskaitė ir dr. Vaiva Gerasimavičiūtė (2019). Negatyvių nuostatų apie psichikos sveikatą tyrimas: darbuotojų nuomonė. Retrieved March 2021 from http://kurklt.lt/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Darbuotoju%CC%A8-nuomone%CC%87s-tyrimas-gairei-1.pdf
11. OECD (2012). Mental Health and Work Sick on the Job?: Myths and Realities about Mental Health and Work. OECD publishing, Paris. (https://www.oecd.org/els/mental-health-and-work-9789264124523-en.htm)
12. Nasser, E. H., & Overholser, J. C. (2005). Recovery from major depression: the role of support from family, friends, and spiritual beliefs. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 111(2), 125-132. (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0447.2004.00423.x)
13. Dour, H. J., Wiley, J. F., Roy‐Byrne, P., Stein, M. B., Sullivan, G., Sherbourne, C. D., ... & Craske, M. G. (2014). Perceived social support mediates anxiety and depressive symptom changes following primary care intervention. Depression and anxiety, 31(5), 436-442. (https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22216)
14. Corrigan, P. W., & Phelan, S. M. (2004). Social support and recovery in people with serious mental illnesses. Community mental health journal, 40(6), 513-523. (https://doi.org/10.1007/s10597-004-6125-5)