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Central Susquehanna Valley
Local Interagency Coordinating Council


Myths of Mental Illness

Keys to Understanding Mental Health


Myth One: A person who has been mentally disabled can never be normal.

The fact is: Mental health difficulties are often temporary in nature. Often the dramatization of normal reactions to stress and trauma as "abnormal" is both unfair and unrealistic. People are affected and define themselves by what others think and when the "experts" provide significant lables, it adds to the problem, not the solution.


Myth Two: If people with other handicaps can cope on their own, people recovering from mental disabiilties should be able to do so, too.

The fact is: Most people who have been through a disabling incident need help, or rehabilitation to return to normal functioning. Physical therapy often fills this role after a physical illness. Similarly, following a mental disability, social rehabilitation is usually needed.

There are many reasons why this is so. The stigma often placed on people with mental and emotional difficulties adds to those difficulties and makes it more problematic for them to enter into trust relationships because of loss of self-esteem. Often the problems themselves are indicative of having poorly adapted behaviors to deal with stress and traumas, and they need to learn new behavior patterns and self-awareness to "inoculate" themselves against future incidents. Additionally, the problems in living as well as the restrictive services often have interfered with their education and learning of normal development behaviors, and they need to catch up.


Myth Three: Mentally disabled people are dangerous.

The fact is: People who have come through a serious emotional and mental trauma and have returned to the community are apt, if anything, to be anxious, timid and passive. They rarely present a danger to the public.

The image of the former mental patient as a homicidal maniac is more the result of media propaganda and the fact that whenever a bizarre and appalling violent act takes place, we identify it as "crazy." Factually, Charles Manson and other famous "killers" are sane. While this may say something about the way we identify insanity, it should indicate that violence is not an act of people with mental disorders, but is an act of violent people.


Myth Four: But recovered mental patients are surely potentially dangerous. They could go "beserk" at any time.

The fact is: Most people who have mental problems never went "beserk" in the first place. People with problems in living are more likely to be depressed and withdrawn than wild and aggressive. Relapses tend to develop gradually as the stress of life erodes the coping skills. People are taught to recognize their own patterns and seek help; friends and family can be alert to needed support. Fear that a recovered person may "go wild" rarely has any basis in fact but is part of the stigma that the media has generated.


Myth Five: A recovered person is bound to make a second-rate employee.

The fact is: Many people recovering from mental disorders make excellent employees. In fact, employers frequently report that such people out perform other workers in such areas as attendance and punctuality and are about equal in motivation, quality of work, and job tenure.


Myth Six: A recovered person may be able to work successfully at low-level jobs, but they aren't suited for really important or responsible positions.

The fact is: Recovered people are individuals. As such, their career potential depends on their particular talents, abilities and experiences as well as motivation. A number of political leaders, artists, and others have achieved greatness despite a mental problem.


Myth Seven: There is nothing I can do to help.

The fact is: The way we act toward people can make all the difference in their lives. When well functioning, hard-working people with mental health problems are refused employment, housing, or other opportunities because of false beliefs or stereotypes, we contribute to the problem, not the solution. We shape our own self esteem by the people around us. If you give us responsibility, we will feel responsible.


People with mental disorders are first and foremost people. They have the same needs and responses as everyone else. You can help by stopping false impressions and spreading the good word.



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