The Myths and Misconceptions of Mental Illness

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W. Nate Upshaw, MD

W. Nate Upshaw, MD

Dr. William Nathan Upshaw is the Medical Director of NeuroSpa TMS®. Since receiving training from the inventor of TMS Therapy nearly a decade ago, Dr. Upshaw has been a pioneer, champion and outspoken advocate of TMS Therapy. Dr. Upshaw’s holistic experience in the field has transformed him into Florida’s leading advocate for widespread accessibility to TMS Therapy.

About Dr. Upshaw

Myths about mental illness still abound, even though psychological disorders are common in the United States. These myths and misconceptions do a great deal of harm, as they further perpetuate the stigma associated with psychological disorders. This tendency to stigmatize mental illness is especially troubling given that more people than ever before are suffering from depression and anxiety as the COVID-19 pandemic affects the nation.

The stigma associated with mental illness has contributed greatly to the persistence of psychological disorders for many. People often fear seeking help because of the negative social connotations associated with psychological disorders and thus deprive themselves of life-improving treatment. For this reason, among others, it’s critical to debunk these myths. Let’s take a look at some of the most common misperceptions about psychological disorders and dispel misconceptions associated with mental illness.

 

  1. You’re either sane or insane. Sanity and insanity are legal terms and have nothing to do with mental health. Furthermore, mental health exists on a continuum with varying levels of severity, including mild, moderate, and severe levels of impairment.
  2. Mental illness isn’t treatable. Most types of psychological disorders respond well to treatment. It’s true that mental illness can be a life-long condition for some, but with therapy, many people achieve long-lasting remission from their disorder. Remission may last the remainder of their lives, but due to the cyclical nature of psychological illnesses, follow-along treatment is essential. 
  1. Mental illness goes away on its own. Mental illness typically won’t go away on its own without being properly treated. The symptoms of a psychological disorder may cycle from mild to severe but without treatment, most mental illness will continue to be a problem.
  1. People with mental illness are dangerous. This is one of the most popular misconceptions about mental illness and one of the most incorrect. People with mental illness are no more likely to be violent or dangerous than the average person, yet are more likely to be the victim of violence and violent crime.
  1. Mental illness is rare. This is another persistent mental health myth that’s the polar opposite of the truth. Mental illness is common, with over 50 million US adults having a mental illness significant enough to meet diagnosable standards. Of those 50 million, 13 million have a serious mental illness.
  1. Medicine can cure mental illness. Medication is often essential on a person’s path to recovery from mental illness, but unlike many physical illnesses, psychological disorders can affect a person’s entire life, including how they cope with stress, build relationships, and communicate with others. Psychotherapy for mental illness helps people gain positive coping mechanisms, better functioning in relationships, and improved skills in handling stress. 
  2. Mental illness is a sign of weak character. This is an old myth about mental illness that’s thoroughly wrong. Mental health and mental strength are different concepts, much like the strongest weightlifter in the world can still fall ill with flu. 
  1. People with mental illness pass it on to their children. While it’s true that some psychological disorders have a genetic component and are inheritable, it’s the combination of genetics and a person’s total environment, as well as their interactions, that affect a person’s chances of developing a mental illness.
  1. Psychiatric medicines are “happy pills” that cause euphoria. Psychiatric medications are sometimes referred to by the slang phrase “happy pills,” but that’s an inaccurate description. Antidepressants and antipsychotics don’t cause a person to feel good. Instead, they correct the neurological conditions that are actively preventing a person’s brain from functioning correctly. Many psychiatric disorders are heavily influenced by the way certain tissues in the brain work. When those tissues aren’t working in top condition, people experience problems with their mood, attention span, ability to think clearly, and so forth. Psychiatric medications take away the conditions in the brain that are actively harmful but don’t impose any particular mood on a person.
  1. A person with mental illness can “just snap out of it.” This persistent myth about depression and other psychological disorders is common and very harmful. People with a psychological disorder can no more will themselves to be free of it than a diabetic can “snap out of it.” No one chooses to have a psychological disorder, and there’s no way to use willpower alone to get rid of a mental illness.
 
 

Getting Down To It

If you’ve been diagnosed with depression and are looking for a modern, effective treatment, consider Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). It’s an FDA-approved treatment for the depressive disorders that uses projected magnetic fields to stimulate under-active areas of the brain thought to be involved in depression. TMS is non-invasive, requires no sedation, and each session lasts less than an hour in a doctor’s office.

 

Works Cited

Bagalman, E., & Napli, A. (2015, March 9). Prevalence of Mental Illness in the United States: Data Sources and Estimates. Retrieved April 21, 2021, from https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20150309_R43047_62112abae4097e14088af046b10c14cb3e43bc08.pdf

Math, S., Kumar, C., & Moirangthem, S. (2015, May). Insanity defense: Past, present, and future. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4676201

Slade, M., & Longden, E. (2015, November 14). Empirical evidence about recovery and mental health. Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4647297

Stuart, H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: An overview. World Psychiatry, 2(2), 121-124.

Zimmerman, M., Morgan, T., & Stanton, K. (2018, October). The severity of psychiatric disorders. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6127765

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