The Truth About Seven Common Mental Health Myths

Mental health is a far more complex subject than most people realize, so let’s work at busting some of the more common myths.

Mental health tends not to be discussed in polite company, which is no doubt why so many myths surround it. Unfortunately, these myths can be very damaging to those they’re directed toward, as well as their families.

In this two-part article, we’ll tackle seven of the more common mental health myths, and hopefully help dispel them.

Myth #1: Psychological disorders aren’t “real” illnesses.

Not so; many are just as real and damaging as heart disease and bronchitis. Some, though not all, respond well to drug therapies and other medical treatments. Yes, some are behavioral in nature, and respond better to talking cures; but that’s not true of all of them by any means.

While we still don’t understand the causes of some mental illnesses, it’s becoming more and more obvious that many, if not most, derive from organic causes, usually in the brain. Certainly, that’s the case for dementias like Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression, it turns out, is mostly chemical-based, caused when brain cells “short circuit” because they reabsorb compounds called neurotransmitters too quickly after firing.

Myth #2: Mental illness rises from character flaws.

This idea is as outdated as phrenology — the idea that the bumps on your head can determine your character or future career. Behavior is often molded by past experience and, as previously noted, organic brain illnesses can trigger mental health problems. Nor can you just will such a “weakness” away.

Myth #3: It’s easy to tell when someone’s suffering from mental illness.

Not if you don’t understand what mental illness is in the first place. Often, we dismiss it as general weirdness or obsessiveness. Then too, mental health can often be controlled with both behavioral and drug therapy.

Myth #4: All crazy behavior can be ascribed to mental illness… or drugs.

First of all, “crazy” is in the eye of the beholder and varies from culture to culture. In Brazil, for example, people who like to read rather than watch television with others are considered odd and suspect, possibly sociopathic because they’re perceived as unfriendly.

On the other hand, some might consider staring at a lighted box for hours on end to be, well, crazy.

Some “crazy behavior” stems from physical illness. A good example is diabetes; extremely low blood sugar can cause delirium and behavior very like that of intoxication. More than one diabetic has died because an unsuspecting police officer threw them in a drunk tank instead of seeking medical treatment.

The Bottom Line

If you believe any of these myths, then you’ve got another think coming. Instead of labeling people one way or another, be more cautious in your assessments — and read Part II of our series on mental health for more insights.