This month marks the 70th anniversary of Mental Health Month. In the decades since the first observance, stigma surrounding mental health issues has greatly reduced. However, misconceptions and misinformation still exist.
It is vital for the one in five Americans who live with mental health conditions to debunk mental health myths that persist.
I asked some of our mental health professionals at Centerstone what myths still need busting regarding mental health care matters. Here are three myths and the truth about each.
MYTH: The way to fix a mental health issue is to “snap out of it.”
TRUTH: Telling someone to snap out of a mental health condition is like telling a diabetic to snap out of diabetes. Mental illness may involve genetics, brain chemistry, life experiences such as trauma or abuse as well as other significant social factors.
It’s true that people with mental health problems can improve, and some experience full recovery. But it isn’t a snap. Improvements often require and are achieved through talk therapy, prescribed medicine and other lifestyle changes which take time.
MYTH: People with mental health challenges are dangerous and often criminals.
TRUTH: Those with a major mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. Because they often also struggle with issues of poverty, transient living conditions and substance use, their vulnerability is increased.
While the media may regularly highlight crimes committed by someone with a mental illness, research suggests that is rarely the case with criminal violence.
MYTH: Suicide is not preventable.
TRUTH: Suicide is preventable. Eight out of 10 people who die by suicide give definite clues to their intentions, although some may be nonverbal or difficult to detect. Warning signs such as anxiety, agitation or trouble sleeping; withdrawal from friends, family and regular activities; and/or substance use often indicate someone is experiencing thoughts of suicide.
Mental Health First Aid classes are available to educate the public about how to recognize symptoms in a person and guide them to crisis care.
On the clinical level, many health care providers, including Centerstone, use risk assessment methods at each appointment to determine if an individual needs an active safety plan put in place to avoid self-harm. Resulting data shows that many lives are saved.
No one has to weather a mental health condition alone. There is help, hope and healing for all with mental illness and addiction, which is why it’s important we bust the myths and spread the truth during Mental Health Month and beyond.
Matt Hardy, PhD, is a regional vice president at Centerstone (centerstone.org) overseeing its integrated behavioral and physical health care services in the northern area of Middle Tennessee.