Mental Health Myths and Facts
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is the leading cause of disability and ill health worldwide. And while awareness of mental disorders—and treatments for them—have come a long way over the past few decades, many of those grappling with mental illness continue to face discrimination and isolation because mental health myths are still very much in circulation.
What are the misconceptions about mental health? Here are the facts:
Myth: Mental illness is not a disability. Any illness has that has a long-term effect on a person’s normal day-to-day activity can be considered a disability. Mental illness can also harm adults and young people’s potential to thrive, affecting their wellbeing and physical and mental health later in life.
Myth: People with mental illness are responsible for their condition. Many people still believe that those with a mental illness choose to act or feel as they do, and that, really, they can control their behaviour. In fact, research shows that mental illnesses are the result of chemical reactions that change the way the brain functions. People suffering from these illnesses are no more responsible for their condition than those with diabetes or cancer.
Myth: Mental illness doesn’t affect children. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 10-20% of adolescents globally experience mental health conditions, yet these remain underdiagnosed and undertreated (diagnosed or treated less frequently than it occurs). Globally, depression is the fourth leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents aged 15-19 years and fifteenth for those aged 10-14 years. Anxiety is the ninth leading cause for adolescents aged 15-19 years and sixth for those aged 10-14 years.
Myth: People with a mental illness are dangerous. This idea is partly the result of over-dramatic films and sensationalised news reports about a tiny minority of the population. The reality? There is no proven link between mental illness and violent crime. In fact, those with a mental illness are more likely than the general population to be victims of violent crime. While there is a very small minority of people grappling with a mental disorder who may act violently at times, this will usually be expressed verbally and won’t involve physical aggression.
Fact: Mental illnesses are often genetically linked. Countless studies reveal a connection between mental illness and genetics. While the source of a mental illnesses is rarely clear-cut—and may involve both environmental and hereditary factors—people who have a family history of mental illness are far more likely to face mental health issues than the general population.
Fact: There are many treatments available for mental illness. For most people with a mental illness there is a range of treatment options available. These include:
- Working with a mental health professional is usually an important part of the recovery process. A specialist of this type can help uncover the source of the problem, develop strategies to tackle the issue effectively, and help those suffering transition back to a mentally healthier way of life.
- A rehabilitation programme provides physical and social support to survivors of mental illness who are trying to rebuild their lives. Rehabilitation can include job training, independent living programmes, and self-help programmes where those recovering from a psychological disorder share experiences and provide mutual support to one another.
- Scientists have made great progress in understanding the chemical causes of mental illnesses and as a result, there are numerous drugs available which can be prescribed by a qualified health professional or doctor. This option is usually most effective when provided together with other forms of treatment such as psychotherapy.
- Family awareness. Research suggests a supportive network of family and friends can encourage successful recovery from a mental illness and prevent a relapse. That’s why a large number of mental health care providers have begun to develop resources and programmes aimed at showing family and friends how to better support and respond to a loved one living with a mental illness.
Working to improve global mental health
There are large disparities in how governments around the world address mental health services, but a number of initiatives are prompting conversations and raising public awareness. In regards to mental health treatment countries like Luxembourg, focus on the “Positive Education” model, which “bridges the gap between the skills of wellbeing and the skills of achievement.” Basically, Luxembourg teaches adolescents to discover their unique strengths — unlike traditional teaching methods that encourage conformity — effectively destigmatising mental illness and creating happier, more productive citizens. In May 2013, the first mental health law in China was passed — a bill that contains seven chapters and 85 articles of protections for mentally ill citizens, and goals to strengthen China’s mental health care system.
Germany’s mental healthcare system is shown to be one of the leading countries in terms of mental health treatment and integration, despite Europe’s overall treatment gap for people with mental illness. Germany has advocated for community-based mental healthcare since the 1970s, providing mentally ill citizens with “financial support for patients, access to healthcare services, help finding or staying in work, outreach programs and awareness campaigns.” To combat the complete lack of mental health services for refugees, Germany has implemented a program that trains refugees to become counsellors, who in turn teach therapeutic classes and coping skills to newly-arrived refugees. While in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Government is regularly undertaking new measures to address mental health issues and reduce the stigma associated with it. It has come up with many initiatives for Emiratis and expatriates by giving them access to mental health services and support as required.
In summary, mental health conditions are common and treatment is available. We must all work together to remove the myths and stigma attached to mental disorders. Although society’s understanding of mental health issues has come on leaps and bounds compared with just a decade ago, we still have mountains to climb. People affected by a mental illness often need to fight two battles: one against the illness, and the other against the stigma that comes from having a psychological disorder. Only by understanding the facts can we help eliminate that stigma and allow those with a mental illness to reclaim their lives and successfully navigate a path to recovery.
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