10 Myths About Mental Health That Need to Be Set Straight Right Now

Updated: Apr. 30, 2021

It's easy to dismiss mental health issues as being "all in your head." Here's why that's not just unfair, but also counterproductive and even dangerous.


Myth: Mental illness isn’t real

Because the scars left by a mental illness are invisible from the outside, many people question the legitimacy of mental health disorders. “Not only is this a myth, but it’s really insulting and demeaning to people with these conditions,” says Debbie Plotnick, vice president of mental health and systems advocacy at Mental Health America. Mental illnesses are real conditions that deserve to be taken seriously, and doubting their validity assumes that people suffering from these disorders are faking it, making them feel ashamed of their condition and possibly keeping them from getting the help they need. These are the silent signs you could have an anxiety disorder.


Myth: No one I know struggles with their mental health

Mental health conditions are way more common than you might realize, and chances are you likely know someone grappling with one. Mentalhealth.gov estimates that 1 in 5 American adults has suffered from a mental health issue, and 1 in 25 adults has experienced a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Additionally, depression claims more than 41,000 lives each year, as the leading cause of suicide. These shocking statistics prove that it’s time to understand the urgency of the issue. Know the warning signs, and watch out for the clear symptoms of depression.


Myth: Children don’t experience mental health issues

A lot of people don’t think children can suffer from mental health issues, but Plotnick explains that this is entirely false. In fact, an estimated 50 percent of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, though many of them take years to be diagnosed. Approximately 16.5 percent of people under the age of 18 in the United States are dealing with a mental health disorder at any given time. These statistics speak for themselves—mental health affects everyone, of all ages. These are the silent signs of bipolar disorder.


Myth: Treatment doesn’t work

Some people believe that the various treatments for mental health disorders—medications, therapy, and more—are ineffective or useless. However, Plotnick says that these treatments are incredibly effective and successful, especially when a patient begins treatment in the earliest stages of their illness. Treatment varies greatly from person to person—it’s far from one-size-fits-all, but the vast variety of options available means that everyone should be able to find some therapy that helps them feel better. Here’s what psychologists wish you knew about depression.


Myth: You should wait until things get really bad to treat your condition

People affected by mental illnesses are often hesitant to get treatment, for fear that they don’t have it “bad enough” or that medications or therapy won’t work. However, Plotnick says this is the entirely wrong mindset to have. The earlier you can treat the illness, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to get rid of it more quickly and more successfully. According to Mental Health First Aid Colorado, the most effective time to begin treatment is between the ages of 12 and 17, before the person has encountered a “severe psychotic episode.” Doing so makes it increasingly likely that the person will never go through one of these serious incidents, making it easier to manage their illness. If you’re wondering whether you have depression or just everyday sadness, here’s how to tell the difference.


Myth: Mental illnesses are caused by personal issues

Mental illness is nobody’s fault. It can happen to absolutely anybody, no matter your age, gender, race, or economic class, and you should not feel guilty or ashamed. Saying that someone’s mental health condition is caused by their own personal weakness places the blame on the victim, which only makes them feel even worse. Rather than blaming the person battling mental illness, understand that these conditions can be caused by a multitude of factors, such as genetics, a poor diet, or substantial life changes. Here are the well-meaning but misguided things you should never say to someone with depression.


Myth: People with mental health problems should keep it quiet

Because of the negative stigma that surrounds mental health, a lot of people think the best thing to do is hide their condition and avoid talking about it. However, Plotnick says the only way to eliminate this stigma is to openly discuss the reality of mental illness and openly accept that having a mental illness does not reduce your self-worth. Mental health is nothing to be ashamed about. This is what it’s really like to have schizophrenia.


Myth: People with mental illnesses are violent

There is a widespread stereotype that people with mental illnesses are excessively violent and aggressive, but the data proves otherwise. According to Mental Health America, approximately 95 to 97 percent of violent crimes are committed by people without a mental health disorder. Rather, Plotnick says that most people with mental illnesses never act out violently, but end up being victims of violence at disproportionate rates. Mentalhealth.gov confirms that those who suffer from a serious mental health issue are more than 10 times as likely to experience violence first-hand.


Myth: You can’t prevent mental illness

As is the case with any health condition, mental illnesses can arise unexpectedly and affect anybody, regardless of their risk factors. However, Plotnick says there are countless ways to tremendously reduce your risk of developing a mental health condition, beginning when you’re young and continuing into adulthood. According to Mayo Clinic, one of the most important steps in preventing mental illness is to keep close track of your health, watching out for any signs and symptoms of mental illness and visiting the doctor’s office for routine checkups. Living a healthy lifestyle—getting enough sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly—can also lower your risk of experiencing a mental illness. You should also try to avoid these nine everyday habits that can up your risk for depression.


Myth: Bad parenting is to blame

When a child begins showing signs of a mental illness, many people are quick to blame the parents for putting their child in that situation. Plotnick argues against this characterization, explaining that families are usually one of the strongest sources of support for a child battling a mental health condition, and are often the first ones to notice something is wrong. Trauma in the family, such as a death or divorce, can certainly up a child’s risk of developing a mental illness, but this is not a direct result one’s parenting methods.