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Mental Health "Myth Busting"

2/8/2012 8:00:00 AM
Written By:
Rip McAdams, Ed.D., LPC, LMFT

When people are diagnosed with a physical health disorder (for example, appendicitis, arthritis, diabetes, etc.), they typically do not think twice about seeking treatment for the condition or telling others that they are doing so.  However, when people are diagnosed with a mental health disorder (for example, ADHD, depression, anxiety, etc.), they may be less likely to seek professional help or talk to others about it.  This appears to be due to some common myths about mental health and mental health treatment that continue to exist despite years of research and practice that have shown them to be false.  Below, is a look at five of those myths and some  reasons why they should not be mistaken for the truth:

Myth 1: Having a mental health issue means you are "crazy." Having an infected appendix does not mean that youareappendicitis. In the same way, having a mental health issue does not mean that youarethat issue. Instead, it means that youhavea health issue that is interfering with the quality of your life and is in need of treatment and potential cure-nothing more.

Myth 2: Mental health issues indicate a weakness of character. This is doubtful considering that some of those experiencing mental health issues have shown to be of the strongest character. Take, for example, Abraham Lincoln who suffered from severe depression with occasional thoughts of suicide and Winston Churchill who suffered from what we now call bipolar disorder. If these two leaders did not have strong character, then who in the world does?  Mental health issues are not an indicator of weak character; they are, at most, an indicator of being human.

Myth 3: People do not fully recover from mental health problems.  Research by the World Health Organization suggests that even people with the most severe mental health issues can recover and become capable of running their own lives and having significant roles in society. Some people who have recovered from behavioral health conditions may require ongoing treatment to maintain their recovery; however, they are no different from the many people who require ongoing medical treatments to maintain their recovery from a physical illness. Recovery that needs to be maintained with ongoing treatment is still recovery.

Myth 4: Mental health issues in children are the result of bad parenting. There is no research to support the claim that bad parenting (or any other single thing) is to blame for mental health problems in children. What the researchhasshown over and over again, is that parents can play a very important role in their children's recovery from mental health problems, no matter what their cause. Parents are to be commended-not blamed-for seeking professional assistance with their children's mental health problems.

Myth 5:  Talking about mental health problems in psychotherapy isn't going to solve them.  Research over the past half-century has shown that about two thirds of people who have engaged in counseling and psychotherapy improve. It is certainly a possibility that a person presenting for psychotherapy will be in the one third who is not helped, but with the chances of resolving mental health issues in psychotherapy being two times as great as not resolving them, it just makes good common sense to at least give therapy a try.

Despite a lack of any factual evidence to support these five myths about mental health and its treatment, some people continue to believe the myths and to apply them as justification for not taking advantage of available mental health services that could improve their own and their family's quality of life. If you or someone you know falls into this category, it is hoped that the arguments presented here can be helpful in distinguishing fact from myth and realizing that mental health problems, like physical heath problems, are nothing to hide due to shame, guilt, embarrassment or other emotions and concerns that may be associated with these myths.

Rip McAdams, Ed.D. is a Professor of Counselor Education at The College of William and Mary, where he also co-directs the New Horizons Family Counseling Center. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with nearly 30 years of clinical practice experience.

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