The truth behind common mental health myths

8/14/2019


August 2019

Article by: Heather Erickson, MSW
Director of Behavioral Health Services
Amery Hospital & Clinic Behavioral Health Center

As a clinical social worker, I’ve supported patients diagnosed with mental illnesses for the last 17 years. I’ve provided individual and group therapy care, developed mental health programs and supervised clinical staff. And before my current role as director of Amery Hospital & Clinic’s Behavioral Health Center, I worked in community-based and residential settings as well.

Ever since I started my career, raising awareness in our community about mental health, illnesses and treatments has been a major passion of mine. Mental illnesses are common and treatable, yet thousands of people who are suffering symptoms delay treatment for up to 10 years. In large part, this happens because our society has stigmatized mental health and illnesses so that we don’t talk about them – or we talk about them negatively. The stigma makes people feel excluded, misunderstood and ultimately unable to reach out and ask for help for fear of facing discrimination or being shamed.

I feel one of my greatest responsibilities is helping defeat this stigma so people don’t continue to suffer in silence. And that starts with widespread mental health education so everyone across our communities knows the facts. As human beings, we tend to be quick to judge and fear the unknown – but the more we know, the more comfortable we are talking, sharing and helping. Here I’ve debunked six common myths about mental illnesses, and I encourage you to share the facts with your own networks, too.

Myth #1: Mental illnesses are rare.

Fact: Mental illnesses are very common. One in 5 people will develop a mental health issue at some point in their life. And they can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, race or income. You can learn about some of these conditions at MakeItOK.org. There are effective treatment options for all of these, and that means there are many reasons to remain hopeful if you are struggling with a mental health issue.

Myth #2: If you try harder, you can make your symptoms go away.

Fact: Mental illnesses can’t be willed away. And for those who are experiencing them, pushing this approach can be very defeating. Not all mental health issues can be treated the same. Some individuals need medicine to manage their symptoms. Some need talk therapy. Some need a combo of meds and counseling. And some need a more specialized treatment.

Myth #3: Everyone who has a mental illness needs medication to manage symptoms.

Fact: Some people with mental illnesses don’t need medicine to manage their symptoms. Yet, no two patients are the same. Sometimes medicine can be very helpful in managing symptoms. And for certain people, it may even be crucial to recovery. Individuals should speak with a professional to determine the best treatment for their needs. If you’re unsure of where to start, talk with your primary care doctor or clinician. To connect with a care team at our organization who can help at:

Myth #4: Keeping a job is too stressful for individuals with mental illnesses.

Fact: Those with mental illnesses are no different than your average employee. They are just as productive. And having a job is actually beneficial to those living with a mental health issue. It provides structure and a sense of personal purpose.

Myth #5: Someone living with a mental illness is more likely to commit a crime or be violent.

Fact: A mere 7.5 percent of violent acts are committed by people experiencing symptoms of mental illness. More often than not, individuals with mental health issues are not violent. Someone with a mental illness is actually nearly 4 times more likely to be the victim of a crime.

Myth #6: Individuals who experience mental health symptoms will never recover.

Fact: When treated, people with mental illnesses are able to live happy, ambitious lives that are meaningful and fulfilling.

Mental illnesses are treatable health conditions very common in the world today. And the Make It OK campaign, which HealthPartners helps lead, works to get our communities learning and talking about them. Go to MakeItOK.org to join me and 16,000+ others who have taken the Make It OK pledge to help end mental illness stigma. The website also offers:
  • Tools and resources for how to talk about mental health issues in a respectful way
  • Ideas for what you can say to support someone living with a mental illness
  • Real stories from celebrities and others about their own mental health journeys

Together, we can Make It OK.

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