Debunking mental illness myths

Alice Webster, Student editor

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In recent years, activists have worked to destigmatize mental illness; however, there is still a long way to go before mental illness is fully understood and accepted by the general public. Part of the stigma that has surrounded mental illness for decades stems from misconceptions which are often perpetuated by schools and even self-help literature.

One of the most common mental illnesses, especially among teens, is anxiety. Many misunderstand the difference between the feeling of anxiety and the mental illness anxiety, thinking that they are the same. Anxiety and stress are normal, if unpleasant, responses to life events; anxiety becomes a mental illness when it occurs regardless of external stimuli. People with anxiety often have no rationale for their worries and even recognize their irrationality but are unable to control their nerves or relax.

One specific anxiety disorder is OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder. Many people think OCD manifests in extreme organization and cleanliness. While many people with OCD are orderly, OCD is classified as the obsessive repetition of certain patterns to an unhealthy level. It often causes deep distress in those who have it and disrupts their ability to complete daily tasks.

Another common and often misunderstood mental illness is depression. Depression is another mental illness that is also a normal human reaction to trauma and tragedy, which makes the two definitions easily confounded. Depression as a mental illness, like anxiety, occurs regardless of external stimuli and is not easy to control no matter how hard someone tries.

Perhaps the most damaging myths concern psychotic disorders, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and psychosis. Some people think schizophrenia is associated with multiple personalities, but that is a different disorder called dissociative identity disorder. Schizophrenics have hallucinations but not different personalities. Furthermore, the most common hallucinations are auditory, not visual. Another common myth is that people with psychotic disorders are often dangerous to themselves and others. However, mentally ill people, including those with psychotic disorders, are far more likely to be the victims of violence than to cause it. 

Despite the strides made in recent years, there is still a great amount of stigma against mental illness. It is up to us to educate ourselves and respect those who live with these conditions.