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Mental health misconceptions | Medical myths

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Over the past decades, mental disorders, psychiatry as a science and medical and social practice, bioethical rights and the quality of life of people with mental disorders – all these issues are gradually emerging from the deaf, undiscussed shadow where they have been for centuries. These problems turned out to be much more complex and multifaceted than people used to think about them; they require close indifferent attention, but often they simply do not have an unambiguous and painless solution for everyone. And yet they have to be addressed. Perhaps we should start by debunking the myths, which in this respect have accumulated, probably more than in all other areas of medicine combined.

The phenomenon of stigmatization ( the tendency to hang socially unapproved labels, irrational condemnation, avoidance and rejection of a certain category of people ) is rooted in ancient times – when mental illness was interpreted as “punishment for sins”, “introduction of evil spirits” and etc. In modern society, this trend is still very strong and tenacious. An effective means of overcoming prejudices is knowledge, awareness, or, as they say now, awareness. But the main thing here is a sincere desire to understand and understand. So let’s take a closer look at the eleven most common misconceptions related to mental health and mental disorders.

 

“Real mental problems” are rare

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this claim was wrong. Today it is further from the truth than ever before.

In 2001, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that one in four people worldwide will experience at least one mental and/or neurological disorder during their lifetime.

Currently, at least 450 million people worldwide suffer from such disorders. According to WHO estimates, mental illness is ” one of the leading causes of ill health and disability in the world ” in terms of frequency of occurrence.“. The most widespread mental disorder is depression, the global prevalence of which in 2017 was estimated at 264 million people. In the United States, the number of people with clinically significant depression has tripled during the pandemic and now accounts for a quarter of the country’s total adult population. Less common, but no less socially significant, is generalized anxiety disorder, which is detected in 6.8 million Americans, i.e. three out of every hundred. And these, we note, are only two diagnoses from a huge spectrum of mental diseases known to medicine.

 

Panic attacks can be fatal

A panic attack  is an extremely unpleasant condition, characterized by an accelerated heartbeat and a feeling of uncontrollable horror before the rapidly approaching inevitable death. In fact, such attacks are not directly related to mortality. Simply put, so far it has never happened that a person died directly from a panic attack.

It should be noted, however, that people prone to panic attacks in moments of possible psychomotor agitation more often than others become victims of accidents. Therefore, for everyone who knows such a predisposition behind them and / or feels the approach of an attack, it is most reasonable to wait it out in some safe place – this will reduce the risk to zero.

 

People with mental disorders cannot work

An old but very tenacious myth is that people with mental problems are not able to keep their jobs and remain an effective team member. Absolute nonsense.

The truth is that in the presence of really severe disorders of mental activity, it may be difficult or inaccessible for a person to regularly perform functional duties. Such situations are indeed rare (see point 1); they are quite obvious and are solved by hospitalization – but it is unacceptable to resort to discrimination in any form, for example, “just in case” to dismiss a person or “in advance” to transfer to a less responsible position. The vast majority of people with mental disorders are just as productive workers as those with a healthy mind.

In 2014, the results of a special study were published in the United States, the object of which was the dependence of employment on the nature of psychopathology. As expected, the authors found that in this population, “… employment rates declined with the severity of mental health problems .”

However, it was also found that 54.5% (i.e. more than half) of people with severe mental illness are able to work and have a job, compared with 79.5% of people with mental disorders, 68.8% of people with mild disorders and 62.7% of people with mental disorders moderate disorders.

As for the additional influence of the age factor, the gap between the categories of persons with mental disorders and mentally healthy people widened as the average age of the surveyed samples increased. Thus, among people aged 18-25, the difference in the share of employed was only 1%, while in the age group 50-64 this difference reached 21%.

 

Mental problems are a sign of weakness

This is about as true as saying that a broken leg is a sign of weakness.

It is high time to understand that a mental disorder is precisely a disease, and not a bad character. And people, for example, with depression cannot simply “pull themselves together and get rid of it”, just as it is impossible to recover from diabetes, psoriasis, etc. by sheer willpower.

A somewhat different statement is true: the struggle with a mental disorder can indeed take a lot of strength. But capitulation is not worth it in any case.

Only those who have no friends need the help of a psychiatrist or psychologist

There is a huge difference between a carefully designed, thoughtful, structured clinical interview conducted by a professional psychotherapist and “heart-to-heart conversations” with close friends. Of course, the latter also helps to a certain extent, but a qualified, experienced specialist solves problems much more efficiently, since his methods are constructive, justified and tested by practice.

In addition, not everyone is able to fully open up even to their best friend or closest relatives. Compared with ordinary informal gatherings, professional psychotherapy is needed because it guarantees confidentiality, objectivity and individual orientation – which, as a rule, the patient’s friends or family members cannot provide.

There are many more arguments in favor of professional help, but here everything is already quite obvious. We don’t go for appendicitis surgery to a programmer friend or carpenter nephew, do we?

Mental disorders are incurable

Mental disorders do not necessarily develop with a “lifetime guarantee”. This is very individual: some people can, for example, experience periodic attacks, in the intermissions between which they do not stand out from their environment, others lead a habitual lifestyle and ensure its quality thanks to supportive drug or non-drug therapy, etc. In some cases, indeed, a person does not have complete confidence in the cure of a mental disorder, and in other patients, symptoms may worsen over time.

However, the conclusion from what has been said should be that most patients manage to restore their condition to a premorbid (premorbid) level. This is what should be noted.

In addition, it must be taken into account that the concept of “recovery” for different people can differ significantly in meaning. If for some, recovery means returning to exactly the same lifestyle that they led before the onset of the first symptoms, then others consider it quite enough to alleviate the symptoms and ensure a satisfactory quality of life, no matter how much this life differs from life before the disease.

Experts partnering with the nonprofit Mental Health America explain:

“Recovery from mental illness means not only feeling better, but also returning to a full, satisfying life. Many patients admit that their path to recovery has not been straight and smooth. Rather, it is a road of ups and downs, failures and new discoveries. Sometimes it takes a long time, but changes for the better can happen anywhere along the way.”

Addiction is a lack of willpower

Wrong. Experts view drug addiction as a chronic disease.

One of the articles published in ” Addictive Behaviors Reports ” was devoted to the results of a longitudinal study of the relationship between willpower and overcoming addiction. The study found that willpower alone is not a decisive factor in this complex process: “ People with a formed addiction did not seem to us to be weak-willed at all; recovery depended for the most part on what specific strategies were developed to control environmental factors, and with the right choice of strategy, its implementation may not require special willpower from a person .

 

In patients with schizophrenia, consciousness is split into several autonomous personalities.

This is a myth, partly due to works of art, partly by the very term “schizophrenia” (translated from ancient Greek, it literally means “split thinking”). The term was proposed in 1908 by the prominent Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, who thereby sought to “… emphasize mental and behavioral disintegration as a key component of the disorder .” According to the WHO, schizophrenia “ is characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, emotional reactions, speech, self-awareness, and behavior. These distortions may also include hallucinations and delusions .”

Schizophrenia should not be confused with dissociative identity disorder and other personality, characterological, affective disorders.

Eating disorders only occur in women

There is a stereotype in society that eating disorders are the exclusive prerogative of young, white, and, moreover, fairly well-to-do women. In fact, anyone can develop such a disorder.

In particular, a study of the demographics of eating mental disorders over a ten-year period was carried out – and significant shifts were found compared with previous data of this kind. The most significant increase in incidence is observed among men, low-income people and people over 45 years of age.

According to another publication, males currently account for 10-25% of the total cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, as well as 25% of cases of compulsive overeating.

Eating Disorder – A Conscious Lifestyle Choice

This myth is very dangerous, because in fact, eating disorders are serious mental disorders, which in some cases can even be fatal.

All people with mental illness are aggressive and violent

This prejudice has nothing to do with the real state of affairs. Fortunately, the world is becoming more informed about psychiatry and mental illness, and such prejudices in the public mind are slowly dying out. Virtually none of the patients suffering from even the most serious disorders (for example, the same schizophrenia) is prone to violence and aggression. The problem here is that isolated “resonant” episodes of this kind sometimes do happen, and if the culprit is a mentally ill person, this fact is given special (and most often absolutely incompetent) attention in the media, literature, cinema, – immeasurably more, than cases of violence or aggression on the part of healthy individuals – which creates the illusion of aggressiveness of the mentally ill in general.

In such an authoritative source as The Lancet magazine , Sir Graham Thornycroft, Professor of Public Psychiatry at King’s College London, published a comment: “ Yes, in some types of mental disorders a person can show aggressiveness, increased compared to the general level of violence in the population. We have to admit that this fact is very inconvenient and uncomfortable for the mental health system, in particular for those who work in the public relations sector.“. But then Professor G. Thornycroft analyzes this complex phenomenon in detail, drawing attention to the actual rarity and insignificance of the share of such cases in the general flow of registered violence; recalls that the structure of psychiatric morbidity is dominated by depressive and anxiety disorders, with which patients pose a threat only to themselves; examines the statistics that most aggressive mentally ill people actually suffer from a “triple pathology” – in addition to the disease itself, they also show dependence on some psychoactive substance and signs of antisocial personality disorder.

In conclusion, we will focus on the fact that diseases and mental disorders, for all their prevalence and specificity, can now be successfully treated. The therapeutic possibilities of modern psychiatry are quite large and diverse, the means are effective and at the same time ethical, therefore it is high time to change the unhealthy attitude of society towards this entire area. Of course, much has already changed over the past decades, but there are still many myths and stigmas that need to be eliminated through joint efforts.

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