As common as mental illness is, though, certain myths are surprisingly persistent and prejudice continues to be widespread. Here are common beliefs debunked.
You can “snap out of” mental health problems.
The facts: You can’t just magically think your way out of a mental illness, whether it’s mild or severe. This idea is pervasive — and damaging, because it creates unreasonable expectations for the person who is suffering from the illness, says Nelson Freimer, psychiatry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.Some may regard mental illness as a personality or character flaw, but that simply isn’t the case. Researchers have found many factors that contribute to and influence whether someone will develop mental illness, including genetics, biochemical imbalances in the brain, childhood abuse and the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy.
Mental health problems breed violence.
The facts: There’s a big disconnect between our perceptions and the evidence, says Jeffrey Swanson, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Duke University School of Medicine. It is hard to escape the headlines about mass shootings committed by someone with a history of mental illness, and polls show that a majority of people believe that the mentally ill are more likely to be violent.
But the truth is, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent, says Swanson. Although people with severe mental illness are up to three times more likely to be violent than those who are mentally healthy, they contribute to just a small part of violence in society, he says. And only about 3 percent to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to mental illness. In fact, researchers have found that people with mental illness are about 10 times more likely to be victimized by violence than the general population.
You can’t recover from mental illness.
The facts: Many people do make it through mild or moderate episodes of mental illness and never experience them again. Others with more serious conditions are able to successfully control them and live the life they want, just like people with such chronic diseases as diabetes.
Recovery often depends on the type of mental illness, how old you are when diagnosed and other health conditions. The good news is that recovery rates are generally high: up to 50 percent for schizophrenia, 70 percent for panic disorder and 80 percent for bipolar disorder.
Recovery can feel different to different people, but it’s helpful to think of it as an ongoing process of regaining control over your life after a diagnosis, says 63-year-old Susan Noonan, a Boston physician and author who suffers from depression herself. Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean being the person you were before you got sick — that’s likely not realistic. “But it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life,” says Noonan. “Living in recovery means being able to handle tough days, and it looks different for everyone.” The challenge lies in setting realistic expectations for what recovery means to you. “Mental illness changes how my life goes, but it doesn’t dictate. It’s not the decider,” says Noonan.
Read more about this at http://khn.org/news/busting-myths-about-mental-illness/ in an article written by Barbara Feder Ostrov at Kaiser health News.
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