Busting myths on World Mental Health Day 2014

People think that mental illness is the result of a sin someone has committed and therefore they are being punished

Hassan Majeed (MD) October 10, 2014
Every year on October 10th, people all over the world commemorate World Mental Health Day to raise awareness of mental illnesses and to support efforts for their treatments.

Psychiatry, the branch of medicine which deals with mental illness, hasn’t developed much in Pakistan; the treatment and support for people suffering from mental health issues are almost non-existent. Since there are various myths about mental illnesses that cause major road blocks in their treatments, I will take this opportunity to debunk some of those myths.

Psychiatric illnesses are the result of some evil activity

It is a common phenomenon to pass moral judgmentabout psychiatric illnesses. People think that mental illness is the result of a sin someone has committed. Like most other medical diseases, psychiatric illnesses result from a combination of genetic vulnerability and social and environmental factors. These are not punishments for the actions or deeds that the patient might have committed.

Someone who can attempt suicide can do anything

I remember hearing that a person who can attempt a suicide can do anything in his/her life. This is a myth. Many times, suicide is an impulsive act. A patient may feel extremely anxious, depressed and hopeless before attempting suicide and may not be able to see better options available in life.  They may believe that suicide is the only way to resolve their problems. Hallucinations, psychic anxiety, drugs and alcohol prevent these patients from thinking straight. Suicide is preventable. If someone starts talking about suicide, it is time to seek help instead of passing moral judgments.

The macho factor

It is said that strong men do not seek help but solve their issues on their own and if they have caused problems, they should solve it themselves. These beliefs are common when it comes to asking for help to treat mental illnesses. In reality, though asking a clinician for help might be a difficult act, it is also a sign of strength.

Mental illnesses can prevent patients from making informed decisions. As such a point, it is important for the patient’s kith and kin to help him/her to go and see a clinician. A trained specialist can help a patient with his/her illness in a better and can also help them solve whatever issues they might be facing in their routine life.

Psychiatric patients are lazy

Patients with mental health issues are blamed for being lazy and using their illness to avoid work or studies. In reality, lack of concentration, poor energy, decreased appetite and feelings of hopelessness are common amongst many psychiatric patients. An imbalance of chemicals in the brain can lead to symptoms that look like laziness but actually represent a more complex clinical scenario. These patients are not lazy – they lack the energy and concentration to carry out routine activities.

Psychiatric patients are violent

It is a common perception that a person with some kind of mental illness will be violent towards other people. Research has repeatedly shown that, most of the time, psychiatric patients are the ones who are victims of verbal and physical violence. A very small percentage of such patients ever harm themselves or others.

Psychotherapy is not helpful

Many times people wonder how talking to someone can help them treat their illness. There is a growing percentage of evidence to support the fact that skilful talk therapy is very effective as a form of treatment for various major mental illnesses. A lot of researches have shown that good social support helps the patient. But these people are not expert in different clinical skills, including diagnosis and treatment. It is important to seek professional psychotherapy from someone who is certified and trained in the field.

Patients are abused in mental hospitals

It is a common fear that patients are verbally, physically or sexually abused in mental hospitals. This is simply not true. There are laws to protect the rights of patients and the same medical ethics apply to mentally ill patients as well. Restrains and seclusion rooms are only used when the patient is violent and other modalities to calm them down have failed. These time-limited interventions are used to prevent any potential damage – not as a punishment.

Children do not get mental illnesses

It is widely believed that children do not get psychiatric illnesses because they are too young to have them. This notion is completely false. There is substantial clinical research data to suggest that children get almost all the same psychiatric illnesses as adults do, such as depression, anxiety and other psychotic disorders. The only factor that is true is that sometimes it is hard to diagnose these illnesses in children. It is important to get advice from an expert clinician and then get the appropriate treatment done so that they can have a productive future.

We need to put these myths to rest so that patients can utilise mental health resources and be an effective and equal part of society.
Hassan Majeed (MD) The author is working as a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, NY. He is a marathon runner and his interests include art, culture, travel, gender, human rights, mental health, and education. He tweets @HassanMajeedMD (https://twitter.com/HassanMajeedMD)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


The truth | 9 years ago | Reply I'm so glad that someone has pointed out psychiatric issues that people deal with.
HaroldAMaio | 9 years ago | Reply Busting myths? They are well known, what we need is a focus on truths. Abuse in mental institutions is not common? It is all too common.
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