Myths about Mental Illness still Prevail
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 May is the mental health month, sponsored for the purpose of addressing problems of the mentally ill and to clearing up misconceptions about mental illness.  As we near the end of the second millenium our ignorance about mental illness is about the same as it was in the pre-Christian era.  
Here are some of the things I would like to clarify about mental illness during this mental health month:

1. Having an emotional disorder doesn't mean you are "crazy."  People equate emotional afflictions with insanity. In the first meeting, after telling me about their problem, eight out of my ten patients ask me, "So, what do you think, am I crazy?" To which I customarily reply, "The fact that you are seeking help is a proof of your sanity.  No crazy person ever comes to see me."  
Emotional disorders afflict everyone--people who are normal, sane, average, successful, macho, super achievers, or any other category you can think of.  Just as we all have colds, sore threats and upset stomachs, so also we suffer from emotional afflictions.   

2. Seek help if the problem lingers on.  Just as you don't need to go to a doctor every time you have a cold, headache, or upset stomach, you also don't need to go to a counselor every time you're sad or upset.  However, when emotional upset hangs on, disrupts your relationships, family or work, you should seek help.  When you feel that your emotions are controlling you rather than you controlling your emotions, check it out with a counselor.  

3.   Those who are mentally ill are less dangerous than the general population.  In a study conducted by Northwestern Medical School, only 3 of 2122 contacts between police and citizens involved violent behavior by a mentally ill person, while 17 involved violent crimes committed by non-mentally ill persons.  The vast majority of the mentally ill are not dangerous.  Taken as a whole, those who are mentally ill are less dangerous than the average person. 

4. Children can develop emotional disorders at a tender age.  Childhood is not all fun and games--it can involve sadness, desperation, and crippling fears.  The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Advisory Council both estimate that 12 % of children in the United States will develop a mental illness at some time in their childhood. As a parent, anytime you are unsure whether you can deal with your child's problem, it is better to err on the safe side and consult a mental health professional.  

5. If you seek help from a mental health professional, it doesn't mean you're a wimp.  On the contrary, it's a sign of strength.  I have modified the serenity prayer a little and it reads like this, "God! Give me the strength to change in me what I can, and the courage to take help for what I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference."  
The majority of people in today's world have problems in marriage, in parent-child relationships, in work situation, or because they feel depressed, anxious, or emotionally out of control.  There is nothing "wimpy" about seeking help from a professional who is trained to deal with these matters.  

6. People do get better.  Perhaps we are still governed by the old myth that the mentally ill never recover.  Only the seriously mentally ill (which covers one 1 or two percent of the population) never completely recover from their illness, but even they can function a lot better with professional help and rehabilitation programs.  The remaining mental disorders are very treatable.  Medications and psychological techniques are improving all the time and have lately become highly effective.  

Treatment of many mental disorders leads to complete recovery.  It's like the repair of a fracture. Once treated, it's cured.  Some mental disorders may involve relapses, particularly, when you are exposed to the same condition.  But, if you've learned the required emotional skills through psychological treatment, you will recover faster and with fewer complications after a relapse. 

You have a body, so you can develop a physical illness.  Likewise, you have emotions, so you can develop an emotional disorder.  
Some say that the nation would benefit if everyone had a mental health professional to turn to just as we have a physician to help us with our physical problems.    

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