Seven Myths About Mental Illness Most People Still Believe

Mental disorders often face the extreme brute of many false claims and phony beliefs, causing social alienation, stress, and frustration from those individuals who are suffering from one. Therefore, it is very important to understand both the causes, definitions, and symptoms of mental disorders before making judgment calls. Below are some very popular myths debunked.

Myth: Depression is a state of mind one can snap out of if he or she finds the willpower.
Reality: Depression, like all other mental illnesses, is a complex disorder with several theories leading to its causation, none of which coincide with choice or willpower. These theories include neurotransmitter (serotonin and norepinephrine) and brain structure abnormalities, environmental cues, extreme trauma, and co-morbidity with other mental disorders. In other words, depression is not a matter of one choosing to wallow in misery. Just as it is difficult to force a happy smile during a sad time, suggesting to fake happiness when suffering from depression is often impossible and insulting.

Myth: People with pedophilia have sex with children.
Reality: People who are sexually attracted to children and have sex with children are pedophiles. However, there is a much larger percentage of individuals who have pedophilic fantasies, yet never disclose or execute them. These thoughts tend to create enormous distress, and society’s standard of deeming pedophiles as an exclusive, sick-minded population, only heighten the suffering. Most people fail to understand that these individuals know their thoughts are sickening and wrong, yet they cannot stop them. Paraphilias refer to sexual fantasies or urges related to non-human objects or non-consenting persons; other ones include exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual masochism, and sexual sadism. These are all mental disorders, not just a set of fantasies individuals choose to enjoy. In fact, paraphilias are often very tormenting and detrimental to an individual’s self-esteem and intimate relationships, and treatment is far more complicated than simply changing one’s thoughts.

Myth: People with schizophrenia pose a dangerous threat to society.
Reality: The majority of people suffering from schizophrenia are in no danger of hurting anyone else. Schizophrenia is categorized by disturbances in one’s thought processes and typically include distortion with reality from imagination; these can be manifested as hallucinations, delusions, heightened paranoia, and abnormal sensations and perceptions. Under appropriate medication and treatment, these individuals are no more likely to harm someone else than someone who is not suffering from schizophrenia. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of crime, because a large population are homeless and can be easy targets for abuse. Moreover, ignorance leads many people into believing they are dangerous or strange, increasing motivation for violence. 

Myth: To be anorexic, one must be severely underweight.
Reality: Diagnosing eating disorders has transitioned into focusing on the state of mind, rather than the state of body. This is why they can difficult to detect; an anorexic state of mind refers to the preoccupation and fears of eating, restriction of food intake, constant thoughts about body image, and a strong need to seek control in one’s diet. For this reason, most anorexic individuals do suffer from malnourishment, thus rapidly decreasing their body weights beyond what is healthy. However, if they exhibit these mental symptoms, both men and women can be diagnosed with anorexia, despite the number on the scale.

Myth: Social phobia disorder is just another name for shyness.
Reality: Shyness refers to experiencing discomfort around others, especially around strangers. People suffering from shyness often feel self-conscious when interacting, and they may believe others are constantly watching or judging them.This can lead to fear, embarrassment, and anxiety in social situations. Social phobia disorder is more serious than shyness, in that the severe preoccupation with social situation interferes with ordinary activities, such as work, school, and relationships. Whereas people with shyness may feel uncomfortable in certain situations involving other people, they do not typically avoid them. To be diagnosed with social phobia disorder, one must have a deliberating adversity to certain social situations that affects everyday functioning. Indeed, social phobia disorder can induce panic attacks and increased motivation to avoid all social situations.

Myth: Premature ejaculation indicates a man is bad at sex.
Reality: After ruling out medical issues, premature ejaculation usually indicates performance anxiety. In most cases, men suffering from premature ejaculation tend to obsess about their problem when getting intimate with someone. This obsession manifests into anxiety, and once sex has been initiated, it is all the man can focus on. In most of the animal kingdom, premature ejaculation is normal, and in an evolutionary aspect, it makes sense, as our ancestors relied on quick intercourse to procreate and secure survival. Most psychologists and sex therapists agree that one must learn how to voluntarily delay orgasm in order to avoid premature ejaculation. Some men simply do not know how to control their sexual response, and this does not mean they are inexperienced or selfish. In fact, this issue is common and treatment is highly effective.

Myth: People with bipolar disorder swing back and forth from being really happy and really sad.
Reality: This is a very broad interpretation, and bipolar disorder is much more complex in how it affects one’s mood and mental state of being. This generic extreme idea of dramatic swinging back and forth is uncommon, as most individuals with bipolar disorder experience depression far more than mania. The idea of “extreme happiness” can be deceiving, as mania is not simply a state of euphoria: more commonly, individuals suffer from very intense, spontaneous, elevated moods that can be both frightening and unpredictable. Likewise, there are different types of bipolar disorder, and emotions often range all over the spectrum, not just at the extreme highs and lows.