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Updated 12 March 2004

Myths and facts about mental illness

Mental health and illness are often misunderstood regarding the causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Here are some common myths, and the correct facts about each.

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Mental health and illness are often misunderstood regarding the causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Here are some common myths that surround mental health, and the correct facts about each.

Myth 1: Mental illness is the same as mental retardation.

Fact: These are two different disorders; retardation is generally associated with a limitation in mental functioning as well as difficulties with certain daily living activities. With persons who suffer from psychiatric disabilities, the limitations in intellectual functioning vary as it does across the general public.

Myth 2: Mental disorders are a figment of one's imagination.

Fact: Mental illnesses are real. Mental illnesses and brain disorders cause suffering, disability and can even shorten life (this is evident from episodes of depression after a heart attack, liver disease due to alcohol abuse and attempted suicide). Mental illness can be diagnosed and treated before it is too late. The symptoms are a sign of real illness.

Myth 3: Mental disorders are caused by a weakness in character.

Fact: Mental disorders are caused by biological, psychological and social factors. Research has shown genetic and biological factors are associated with schizophrenia, depression and alcoholism. Social influences such as loss of a job or loved one can contribute to various disorders.

Myth 4: Recovery from mental illness is not possible.

Fact: Long-term research has shown that the majority of people with mental illness show genuine improvement over time and lead stable lives. There are many treatments available to individuals who suffer from mental illness such as medications, therapy and rehabilitation.

Myth 5: Mental illness only affects people in rich countries.

Fact: Mental and brain disorders are a concern for people in developed countries as well as those in developing nations. In a study of 27 countries conducted by the WHO (World Health Organization) no country was found to be free of schizophrenia. Alcohol abuse is another commonly found disorder.

Myth 6: Mentally ill and mentally retarded individuals are dangerous or violent.

Fact: The vast majority of these individuals are not dangerous or violent. This myth is reinforced by portrayals in the media of people with mental illness as frequently violent. It is important to eliminate discrimination and replace it with positive images and messages and a greater awareness of what mental health really is.

- (Health24)

Read more:

1 in 5 suffers from mental illness
Mood disorders
A healthy mind

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