The Truth About Five Common Mental Illness Myths

Although mental illnesses are very common, impacting one in five people each year, they’re still misunderstood in many ways. Numerous myths about these diseases persist, and these misconceptions hurt those who live with these conditions and can prevent them from seeking treatment.

But the truth that counters these false perceptions is a powerful force against stigma. Here are the facts about five common mental illness myths.

Myth #1: Those living with mental illnesses are dangerous.

Though depictions of mental illness in the media often suggest otherwise, those living with serious mental health challenges are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), only 3%-5% of violent acts are committed by individuals living with a serious mental illness.

Myth #2: Mental illness is a sign of low intelligence.

Mental illnesses impact people regardless of IQ. Living with a mental health condition is not a sign of low intelligence; in fact, many very smart people have been diagnosed with mental illnesses. For example, mathematician John Nash, who won a Nobel Prize, lived with schizophrenia, and both Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemmingway lived with bipolar disorder.

Myth #3: Mental illness is the result of sin or weakness.

A mental health condition isn’t caused by sin or personal weakness any more than getting cancer is a sign that a person hasn’t prayed enough. Mental illnesses are disorders that affect the brain and, like diseases impacting other parts of the body, they have many causes including genetics, injury and environmental factors.

In “5 Myths about Mental Illness,” psychologist Tom Karel sums it up well:

“We live in bodies that are susceptible to many maladies. Given the wrong circumstances, broken bones and mental illnesses can happen and are both included in the list of afflictions that we may suffer in this life. In the case of a broken leg, we do not debate whether the femur should have been stronger; rather we provide care for the hurting part.”

Myth #4: Having enough faith can cure a mental illness.

The idea that a person can be “cured” from a mental illness by praying or believing enough can be deeply hurtful to those who live with mental health conditions as it suggests that if someone is still struggling with their mental health, they must not have strong faith. Though trust in God and being part of a religious community can provide great comfort and strength for those living with mental health challenges, these things don’t take mental illnesses away.

Myth #5: Treatment doesn’t work.

There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment plan that can help those living with mental heath conditions. But, in most cases, these individuals can take significant steps toward stability through a variety of treatments, including medication, psychotherapy and community support. While there are no cures for mental illnesses, interventions like these can reduce symptoms and prevent them from recurring.

The Well Community is a place where the stigma perpetuated by myths doesn’t exist. Your gift to the Well will enable us to continue providing support, resources and belonging for those living with serious mental illnesses, helping them pursue stability in the company of others who understand and care.

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