Kathy Rohr, MSSW, LCSW, Director of Adult Programs inpexels-photo-25144 Wisconsin 

A recent study from the American Psychiatric Association found that nearly half of all Americans report knowing only a little or almost nothing about mental illness. When you consider that 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness in a given year, that’s an astounding finding.

In that lack of understanding, there’s a lot of room for myths — myths that, in this case, perpetuate stigma, inhibit mental health care parity and lead people to suffer needlessly in silence.

One of the biggest, damaging myths is that people with mental illness are dangerous. Statistically, people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else.

 This myth exists because stories of violence make the news. And if mental illness contributes to the violence, that’s part of the story. Understandably, it’s not newsworthy when people with mental illness live their everyday lives, blending in among all other law-abiding citizens. They don’t make the news.

Another myth is that mental illness affects a person’s intelligence. Mental illness and IQ are independent, and people with mental illness represent the same intelligence range as the general population.

One of the most potentially harmful myths is that people with mental illness are weak — that they should be able to just “snap out of it.” In fact, the APA study found 1 in 3 Americans hold this belief. The truth is that if you have a mental illness, it’s not your fault. And, smashing another popular myth, it’s not your parents’ fault either.

Mental illness is caused by a complex combination of nature and nurture. Research has shown it has genetic, biological and environmental components, but it can also be influenced by trauma and stress. The truth is that many people who persevere through mental illness develop admirable determination and an inner strength that often comes only through triumphing over adversity.

Persistent myths about mental illness, like those above, contribute to a stigma that inhibits parity in health coverage and discourages people from seeking treatment, even though mental illness is very treatable. Consequently, 3 in 5 adults and half of all youth with mental illness received no mental health services last year — suffering needlessly and silently.

For that to change, we must change. First, we must become educated about the realities of mental illness because odds are good that a loved one, coworker, neighbor or friend is living with such an illness. We must cast aside judgments and embrace them as we would anyone else with a medical condition.

Second, if we live with or suspect mental illness in ourselves or our loved ones, we must not be afraid to seek treatment. Treatment works, and recovery is possible. Seeking treatment is perhaps the single, smartest thing we can do to erase stigma and lead the charge to health care parity.

Third, when we are well, we need to be fearless in speaking for those who suffer, engaging in public dialogue that abandons bygone perceptions and focuses instead on the facts. Only with better understanding can we expect improved outcomes, healthier communities and better tomorrows.


As first published in the La Crosse Tribune on Oct 6, 2013 | Link to Original Article