Behavioral Health Myths and Realities

January 16, 2017

Debunking five common behavioral health falsehoods

The stigmas surrounding mental illness and substance abuse are an ongoing challenge. Close to 90% of individuals with a mental health diagnosis stated that at some point they had personally experienced discrimination resulting from stigma. Some of the consequences of stigmatization include social isolation, the reluctance to actively seek out care, the inability to find employment, and can even contribute to poverty or inadequate housing, all of which result in an increased likelihood of behavioral health symptoms worsening.

At the root of stigma are myths that are perpetuated on a societal level. Like most forms of stereotyping and discrimination, behavioral health myths stand in stark contrast to reality. The following are five of some of the most common examples:

MYTH:

People with behavioral health problems are more likely to commit violent crimes

REALITY:

The assumption that behavioral health problems make a person more dangerous is completely unfounded. Statistically, there is no difference in violent crime rates between offenders that have a mental health diagnosis and offenders that don’t. In fact, a person living with a behavioral health condition is much more likely to be the victim of violent crime than a person living without one.

MYTH:

Mental health issues are uncommon

REALITY:

Mental illness is a lot more common that people realize. Roughly one in five Americans experiences some form of mental illness throughout his or her lifetime. One in 25 experience a serious illness that substantially interferes with major life activities. Mental illness can affect anyone, including all ages, races, and income levels.

Valant published an infographic breaking down mental health by the numbers, located here

MYTH:

Mental illness is caused by bad parenting

REALITY:

It is true that children can, and do, develop mental health conditions. In fact, about one in five children between the ages of 13 and 18 have or will have a mental illness, and about 50% of all lifetime cases began by the age of 14 or sooner. But is important to remember that mental illness is the result of circumstances environmental, biological, social, and otherwise. It is not something that can be simply attributed to parenting, but is a combination of several influences.

MYTH:

Behavioral health problems demonstrate a lack of personal fortitude

REALITY:

Like any other major illness, behavioral health problems are not the fault of the people who have them. They are caused by environmental and physiological factors. A stressful home environment or job, for example, makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events such as being the victim of a crime.

MYTH:

People with a mental illness are unable to tolerate the stress of holding a job

REALITY:

Workers that are managing a mental health problem are just as productive as those that aren’t. Employers who have hired people with a mental health issue have reported good attendance and punctuality, in addition to positive work attitudes and quality of work equal to or better than other staff.

Debunking some of the more common behavioral health myths is a good start toward combating stigmatization. Mitigating stigma as much as possible will contribute strongly to the improved provision of care and successful care outcomes.

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Last Updated: January 19, 2018