Fewer than half of the 54 million Americans who suffer from mental illness get treated and those who do wait on average more than a decade before seeking treatment. They fear becoming victimized by stigma or have doubts about the validity of mental disorders or treatment effectiveness.
Unfortunately, mental illness is real. Fortunately, people can and do get better. The treatment success rates for disorders such as depression (more than 80 percent), panic disorder (70-90 percent) and schizophrenia (60 percent) surpass those of heart disease (45-50 percent) and other medical conditions, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
To combat stigma, we must debunk the myths that surround mental illness:
Myth 1: People with mental illness are weak.
Some of the world’s most powerful and influential people have struggled with mental illness. Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill battled depression. Star athletes, CEOs of major corporations, doctors, lawyers and other professionals also deal with mental illness. Making the decision to seek help and participate in treatment takes strength in itself.
Myth 2: Medication cures mental illness.
New medications made available over the past few decades have helped countless people manage the symptoms of their mental illness. However, taking a pill is not a cure-all for everyone with severe mental illness. Individual and/or group therapy with a qualified mental health professional can help patients gain greater understanding of the factors that contribute to their illness, learn skills to manage their symptoms and improve their self-esteem.
Myth 3: People with mental illness could just “snap out of it” if they wanted to.
Telling someone with depression or other form of psychiatric illness to “just snap out of it” minimizes a person’s struggle with mental illness. Can you imagine telling someone with diabetes or hypertension to snap out of it? That’s because, just like mental illness, these are chronic diseases that need to be managed daily so they don’t interfere with daily living.
Myth 4: Children don’t have mental illness.
Childhood is often thought of as a carefree, idyllic time, but for many children, the reality is quite different.
Ten percent of children and adolescents in the United States suffer from serious emotional and mental disorders that negatively impact their experiences at home, in school and with peers, according to the NIMH. Children can and do recover from psychiatric illnesses.
Myth 5: People with mental illness don’t get well.
People who get the appropriate treatment frequently improve and go on to live healthy, productive lives. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, between 70 and 90 percent of individuals with psychiatric illness have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of medication, psychological treatment and support.
These are a few myths that I think contribute to a lack of understanding and compassion for those with mental illness, but I’m sure there are more. What are some others that you think make it so challenging to rid the world of stigma?