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Top 10 Myths About Mental Illness

Misconceptions about mental illness are pervasive, and the lack of understanding can have serious consequences for millions of people who have a psychiatric illness, according to Narsad -The Brain and Behavior Research Fund, the largest not-for-profit organization raising and distributing funds for psychiatric research.

"Dispelling these myths is a powerful step toward eradicating the stigma and allaying the fears surrounding brain disorders," said Constance Lieber, NARSAD President.

Top 10 Myths About Mental Illness

Myth #1: Psychiatric disorders are not true medical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People who have a mental illness are just "crazy."

Fact: Brain disorders, like heart disease and diabetes, are legitimate medical illnesses. Research shows there are genetic and biological causes for psychiatric disorders, and they can be treated effectively.

Myth #2: People with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are usually dangerous and violent.

Fact: Statistics show that the incidence of violence in people who have a brain disorder is not much higher than it is in the general population.

Myth #3: Mental illness is the result of bad parenting. Fact: Most experts agree that a genetic susceptibility, combined with other risk factors, leads to a psychiatric disorder.

Myth #4: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people who are depressed could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.

Fact: Depression results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function, and medication and/or psychotherapy often help people to recover.

Myth #5: Schizophrenia means split personality, and there is no way to control it.

Fact: Schizophrenia is often confused with multiple personality disorder, but it is a brain disorder that robs people of their ability to think clearly and logically. Symptoms range from social withdrawal to hallucinations and delusions. Medication has helped many individuals with schizophrenia lead fulfilling, productive lives.

Myth #6: Depression is a normal part of the aging process.

Fact: It is not normal for older adults to be depressed. Depression in the elderly is often undiagnosed, and it is important for seniors and their family members to recognize the problem and seek professional help.

Myth #7: Depression and other illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, do not affect children or adolescents. Any problems they have are just a part of growing up.

Fact: Children and adolescents can develop severe mental illnesses. Left untreated, these problems can get worse. Anyone talking about suicide should be taken very seriously.

Myth #8: Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way "failed" or is weak.

Fact: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.

Myth #9: Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower. People with a substance abuse problem are morally weak.

Fact: Addiction is a disease that generally results from changes in brain chemistry. It has nothing to do with being a "bad" person.

Myth #10: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), formerly known as "shock treatment," is painful and barbaric.

Fact: ECT has given a new lease on life to many people who suffer from severe and debilitating depression. It is used when other treatments such as psychotherapy or medication fail or cannot be used. Patients who receive ECT are asleep and under anesthesia, so they do not feel anything.

"Research in brain disorders is flourishing, and we expect to see new and better treatments that will have the power to change lives and bring hope to many," said Lieber.