By Sarah Powell
Myth: Mental health conditions are uncommon.
Fact: Mental illness is more prevalent than many people think: One in five Americans experiences it in their lifetime. One in twenty-five Americans experience a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. It can affect anyone, including all ages, races, income levels and religions. These common conditions are medical, and can cause changes in how people think and feel.
Myth: Mental illness is the result of bad parenting.
Fact: Children can, and do, have mental health conditions. Research shows that one in five children between the ages of 13 and 18 have or will have a mental illness. In fact, 50% of all lifetime cases begin by age 14. While environmental factors can affect a person’s mental health, biological factors can affect individuals just as actively. Mental health conditions are not simply a side effect of parenting, but a combination of influences.
Myth: People are “faking it” or doing it for attention.
Fact: No one would choose to have a mental illness, just as no one would choose to have a physical illness. The causes for mental health conditions are intensively studied and they are real. For anyone living with a mental health condition, their specific symptoms may not always be visible to an untrained observer. It can be challenging to relate to what people with mental health conditions are going through, but that doesn’t mean that their condition isn’t real.
Myth: Mental illness is caused by personal weakness.
Fact: Just like any major illness, mental illness is not the fault of the person who has a mental health condition. It is caused by environmental and biological factors, not a result of personal weakness. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits as well as basic brain structure may play a role too.
Myth: Different races are more prone to mental illness.
Fact: All races and ethnicities are affected by the same rate of mental illness. There is no single group of people more likely than others to have a mental health condition. However, some people have cultural influences that may affect how they interpret symptoms of a mental health condition that could prevent them from getting help. And while the rates are the same, awareness of mental illness in varying minority groups is important to highlight, as these groups often times get overlooked in the potential differences of outcomes in mental illnesses.
Myth: You’re just sad, not depressed.
Fact: Depression is not something a person can will away. People often have the misconception that a person can just “cheer up” or “shake it off.” It is not just “the blues,” but a serious medical condition that affects the biological functioning of our bodies. However, there are treatments like cognitive therapy or medication that can help address the symptoms of depression.
Myth: You don’t need therapy. Just take a pill.
Fact: Everyone has different treatment needs. There is no one, right way to recovery. While medication can help, it may not be the only thing a person needs to feel their absolute best. Often a combination of therapy and medication provides the best outcomes. You should speak with a mental health professional to help determine what’s the best treatment plan.
Myth: People with mental illness can’t handle work or school.
Fact: Stressful situations can be difficult for all people, not just those who live with mental illness. People with mental health conditions have jobs, go to school, and are active members of their communities.
Myth: People with mental health conditions are violent and dangerous.
Fact: Having a mental health condition does not make a person more likely to be violent or dangerous. The truth is, living with a mental health condition makes you more likely to be a victim of violence, four times the rate of the general public. Studies have shown that 1 in 4 individuals living with a mental health condition will experience some form of violence in any given year.
Myth: Psychiatric disorders are not real medical issues.
Fact: Just as with heart disease and diabetes, mental illnesses are a legitimate medical illness. Research shows there are genetic and environmental causes and similar to other medical conditions, they can be treated effectively.
Myth: You can never get better from a mental illness.
Fact: Mental health issues are not always lifelong disorders. For example, some depression and anxiety disorders only require a person to take medication for a short period of time. Innovations in medicine and therapy have made recovery a reality for people living with a mental health issue, even chronic conditions. While all symptoms may not be alleviated easily or at all, with the right recovery plan, people can live the productive and healthy lives they’ve always imagined.
Myth: If you feel better, you are cured.
Fact: For some people, after getting on the proper treatment plan, it can make you feel much better. Many of your symptoms may go away, but this does not mean you’re “cured.” The relief you feel is because of your treatment plan. In order to sustain your mental health, you may need to continue treatment even after you feel better. It doesn’t matter if you need to take medication short-term or long-term, you should never stop taking medication, or change your treatment plan without talking about it with your health provider first.
Symptoms of a mental health condition can come and go. There are often environmental factors that can influence a way person feels. Additionally, there are also just times when a person may exhibit symptoms more strongly.
Myth: People with mental illness are “damaged” and different.
Fact: A mental illness does not make someone any less of a person. They are not broken or odd,; they just have different experiences that not everyone has to face.
Myth: A person can treat themselves with positive thought and prayer.
Fact: Positive thought, religion, and spirituality can be a powerful tool in recovery, but it shouldn’t be the only form of treatment. The most effective treatment someone can receive is one that is planned by their licensed health provider and themselves. If someone would like to incorporate his or her religion and spirituality with their treatment plan, they can look at NAMI’s FaithNet for additional resources.
Myth: You can’t help someone with mental illness.
Fact: Everyone can help those living with mental illness by speaking and acting in a way that preserves personal dignity. If you are a part of removing mental illness stigma in our society you are helping everyone affected by a condition. Two easy ways to do this are:
If you are directly in care of someone living with a mental illness you can:
Myth: People with mental illnesses should be kept in institutions.
Fact: While not always the case in psychiatric history, today, the majority of people living with mental illness do not need long-term hospitalization. A more comprehensive and ever-expanding understanding of mental health conditions have progressed treatments with respect and medical advancements. Like other disease, there are periods of time where a person is particularly unwell and need a short hospital stay, but very few stay longer than a week or two. Many people with mental health conditions live productive, happy and healthy lives.
We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.
Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741
Find Your Local NAMI