Many people might not know this, but mental illness is a lot more common than we all think.
An estimated 1 in 5 people have a diagnosed mental health condition, and that’s not including people who have never received a diagnosis or sought out care.
So why is there such a stigma around mental health if it's so common?
There is so much misinformation being spread about people who live with a mental illness, which can be extremely harmful for those with mental health conditions. This ends up causing many people not to seek help.
I’d like to debunk and explain some common myths & misconceptions about mental illness and people who live with mental illnesses.
Myth: People with a mental health condition are violent
Fact: Those with a mental illness are not anymore likely to commit a violent crime than those without. The narrative used in pop culture and horror movies that those with a mental illness are psycho killers is extremely harmful. One of our clinicians at Telebehavioral Health.US, Teresa Hurtgen, LMSW, shared some of her thoughts on this topic with me.
“From first hand experience, I can say with assurance that a diagnosis of psychosis, schizophrenia, or another severe mental illness does not warrant violence.
"Even someone being a sociopath or psychopath refers more to a lack of empathy and a stronger need for therapeutic work than it does an affiliation with serial murder.
"These types of associations and misconceptions lead to poorer care within the mental health system, and also perpetuates the notion that those with mental illness don’t need to be treated with as much dignity and respect as the next person.”
Teresa spent a portion of her career working at a psychiatric unit in Detroit and at an adult/foster care facility/group home, and said there was not one day where she would go to work and fear for her safety.
Some days could be unpredictable, but that doesn’t mean they were destined to be violent by any means.
Myth: You’re either mentally ill or you’re perfectly fine
Fact: Mental health is a spectrum. Even the person who thinks they are the most mentally healthy person in the world can experience anxiety or feelings of depression. And people with diagnosed mental health conditions can feel perfectly happy and mentally healthy.
Findings from Healthy People 2020 say that only an estimated 17% of American adults are considered to be in a state of “optimal mental health,” meaning that most people probably aren’t as mentally healthy as they think they are.
Myth: People with depression are just “sad”
Fact: Depression is a clinically diagnosed disease with many side effects and should be treated as such. It is not one of those things where you can just smile and make yourself feel better. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm to just “get over it,” and it goes the same for mental health conditions.
So many things have been proven to lead to mental health problems, like race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, geographic location, and many interpersonal factors, all of which we have no control over. This makes it unrealistic to assume someone can just “get over” their depression.
Kill the stigma
Getting rid of the stigma around mental health is the first step to debunking all these common misconceptions that surround people’s mental illnesses.
People with these conditions are no different than anyone else, and it may be more common than you think.