Examining myths about mental illness can be enlightening

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It’s the end of November. Thanksgiving is only a couple days away, and many will be gathering together with family and loved ones to celebrate the holiday season. But before the festivities begin, I want to give out another challenge. There were some very encouraging responses from last month’s article, and I can only hope that the Walla Walla Valley is gearing up to become a stronger role model for other communities in regards to the mental health field.

Here’s the challenge: Take note of the common myths and truths about mental illness that are listed in this article. Pick one myth and truth and share it with as many people as you can for the next month. Share the information with strangers, co-workers, friends and your family. Keep a written or mental log of the myth and truth that you share with others and where the conversation leads with each interaction.

Don’t think of this as a homework assignment — think of it as an opportunity for enlightenment. You might find that you will learn more from others who are unaware of this challenge. You might find people who are acting on the same challenge. You might find rejection, strange looks or negative feedback — do it anyway. Are you ready? Here they are:

Myth: The only thing needed to treat mental illness is medication. Truth: Although medication is a very helpful tool in treatment plans for those with mental illness, many mental health professionals see mental illness fitting into the bio-psycho-social model. This means that there are several factors that play into mental illness. Thus, there are many more treatment methods that are necessary throughout the recovery process of having a mental illness.

Myth: The situation is hopeless if therapy or a medication doesn’t work. Truth: There are many different medications that work in different ways. Each time a new medication is tried, it should be seen as a trial-and-error situation. This can be frustrating, as the same goes for different types of therapies. But there are other options if one hasn’t worked out.

Myth: Mental illness is not stigmatized in today’s society. Truth: Anyone who knows someone with a mental illness, or who currently has one, knows that stigmatization against mental illness is a problem. Stigmatization can lead to discouragement to seek treatment early on, which could ultimately lead to a more difficult recovery process.

Myth: People with severe mental illness are dangerous and violent. Truth: This seems to be a common belief, possibly because those who have a mental illness and commit crimes are portrayed negatively by the media. In actuality, the crime rate for those who have been diagnosed with having a mental illness is only slightly higher than those who don’t have a mental illness.

Myth: Mental illness is a result of bad parenting or a personality weakness. Truth: People can be genetically predisposed to mental illness, but it also forms from other risk factors, including difficulties in coping with situational, social or psychological problems (loss of job, bereavement, etc.).

Myth: Mental illness isn’t that big of a deal and doesn’t need more attention drawn to it. Truth: Mental illness is a big deal, especially since one in four adults experience mental illness in any given year. When these topics are given attention, there is a much greater chance for positive awareness and options for recovery.

Myth: I can’t do anything for someone with a mental illness. Truth: The most important thing is for each person to take on the responsibility of learning and engaging in these topics. By reaching out to those with a mental illness and letting them know that you are available to help them, they can begin on their journey to recovery.

There are many more myths about mental illness that are embedded in our popular culture today. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “MythBusters” way to prove or disprove all of these on a mass scale. Even with a stamp of truth added to the media or social settings, it will take more than words to change the ways of thinking when it comes to dealing with mental illness.

Mental illness does not discriminate. It can affect a person of any religious or economic background, age group, race or geographical location. Don’t let the stigma of mental illness continue on your time. Hold yourself accountable for the lives of those with a mental illness. You never know what reactions will come from the actions that you bring to the table.

Shelby Paulsen is the director of The Rising Sun Clubhouse, and can be reached at shelbyrpaulsen@gmail.com.

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