“I have no right by anything I do or say to demean a human being in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him; it is what he thinks of himself. To undermine a man’s self respect is a sin.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
People with mental illness are decent people. They deserve respect like anyone else. Yet sigma, caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge, rears its ugly head and chips away at the person’s sense of self, making them feel isolated and ashamed. People who have no knowledge of mental illness need to be receptive to information so they can “grow up” and “get over” their false attitudes that are pervasive and damaging to the fragile self esteem of someone with a mental illness.
The following is a list of myths collected by NARSAD (National Alliance for Research in Schizophrenia and Depression). There were 102 responses from psychiatrists around the country. “Misconceptions about mental illness contribute to the stigma which leads many people to be ashamed and prevents them from seeking help,” said Constance Leiber, NARSAD president at the time of the 2002 survey.
MYTH#1: Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just “crazy.”
FACT: Brain disorders, like heart disease and diabetes, are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.
MYTH #2: People with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.
FACT: Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people who have a brain disorder is not much higher than in the general population. Those suffering from a psychosis are more often frightened, confused and despairing than violent.
MYTH #3: Mental illness is the result of bad parenting.
FACT: Most experts agree that a genetic susceptibility, combined with other risk factors, leads to a psychiatric disorder. In other words, mental illnesses have a physical cause. No one is to blame.
MYTH #4: Schizophrenia means “split personality” and there is no way to control it.
FACT: Schizophrenia is often confused with multiple personality disorder. Actually, it is a brain disorder that robs people of their ability to think clearly and logically. The symptoms range from social withdrawal to hallucinations and delusions. Medication has helped many of these individuals to lead fulfilling productive lives.
MYTH #5: Depression is a normal part of the aging process.
FACT: It is not normal for an older person to be depressed. Signs of depression in older people include loss of interest in activities, sleep disturbances, and lethargy. Depression in the elderly is often undiagnosed, and it is important for seniors and their family members to recognize the problem and seek professional help.
MYTH #6: Depression and other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, do not affect children or adolescents. Any problems they have are just a part of growing up.
FACT: Children and adolescents can develop severe mental illnesses. In the United States, one in ten children and adolescents has a mental disorder severe enough to cause impairment.
MYTH #7: If you have a mental illness, it will go away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way “failed” or is weak.
FACT: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. It takes courage to seek professional help.
With a little knowledge about mental illness, one might be willing to extend a hand, give a smile of recognition and rekindle the inner light of self respect in a fellow human being. We need each other. There is hope.