Common Misconceptions About Mental Illness

May 2nd 2016

Kyle Jaeger

A great deal of progress has been made in diagnosing and treating mental illness, but misconceptions and stigmas about people who suffer from mental illness continue to manifest in society. The truth is, mental illness is complex. Psychological disorders comes in a variety of forms, affecting people in different ways, and it's important to recognize that complexity and avoid generalizations that only serve to perpetuate stigmas against those with mental illness.

Here are the five things everybody gets wrong about mental illness.

1. Mental health problems last forever.

While certain mental health disorders are the product of chemical and physical traits in the brain that are not necessarily "curable," the idea that mental health problems are permanent is misleading because it suggests that the symptoms are not treatable. Therapy, medication, and other forms of treatment commonly allow mental health patients to manage their symptoms and lead normal, productive lives, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

2. Mental illnesses aren't real — they're just in the person's head.

Science has offered insights into the complex chemical and biological mechanisms involved in mental illness, proving that the various mental health conditions are not imaginary, as some would have it. Whether it's anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or any of the other 197 classified forms of mental illness, research tells us that the reasons a person might be born, or become, mentally ill are scientifically founded.

3. Only violent and dangerous people suffer from mental illness.

Statistically, you probably know someone suffering from a mental illness. About 42.5 million adults in the U.S. — almost one in five — experience mental illness in a given year, Newsweek reports. And chances are, they're neither violent nor dangerous. This is a generalization that often gets perpetuated in the media, when a gunman opens fire on innocent people and reports of their mental illness surface, leading people to believe that violent mentally ill people are more common than they really are.

In fact, people will mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than violent themselves, a 2014 study from North Carolina State University found, with one-third of adults with mental illness having been the subjects of violence in a six-month period.

4. People with mental illness can't work normal jobs.

Not all forms of mental illness are debilitating. The vast majority of mental illnesses can be managed through a combination of therapy and medication, and so the idea that people with mental health disorders can't work is simply false. Stigmas against people with mental illness do, however, make it more difficult for them to find employment. A 2009 study published in the journal Work identified four misconception about mental illness that contribute to this employment problem: 1) employers assume people with mental illness are less competent, 2) mentally ill people are dangerous and unstable, 3) it's unhealthy for people with mental illness to work, and 3) employing mentally ill people is an act of charity.

5. People with mental illness can just "snap out of it."

If it was true that people with mental illness could "snap out of it," there would be no need for any of the treatment options or programs that exist to serve the community. It also doesn't make sense that people could will their way out of a mental health problem considering the fact that mental illness often involves psychological and biological processes that can not be externally controlled or cured. Telling people with depression to "snap out of it" is one of the more frustrating pieces of advice people with mental illness receive from others who fail to understand the complexity of mental health disorders, Lifehacker reports.

RELATED: How You Should Talk About Mental Health