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Myths and FAQs About Mental Illness

Myth: People diagnosed with mental illness can "snap out of it" if they really try.
Fact:
False. Mental illness is a real bodily disease, not just "in your head."

Myth: "Mental retardation" is a type of mental illness.
Fact:
False. In both, physiology affects behavior. But that's where the similarity ends. Most developmentally disabled people have no psychiatric problems; many persons diagnosed with mental illness are very intelligent.

Myth: If you get too close to a bag lady, there is a good chance that she will become physically violent.
Fact:
False. There is a good chance that she will become verbally abusive if you push her too far. But violence is just as rare among bag ladies, street corner orators, and persons living with bipolar or schizophrenic disorders as it is in the general population.

Myth: I'm with you on that. But if a manic depressive has not taken his lithium that morning, watch out! Because if he gets mad at you, his disorder will give him such a big adrenalin rush that he will have the strength to kill you by accident.
Fact:
False again. That's just not how things work in the human body.

Myth: If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, kiss your chances of a brilliant career goodbye.
Fact:
No way. If you have talent, you have talent. Use it! Many people diagnosed with mental illness have succeeded famously.

Myth: When hiring people who have been diagnosed mentally ill, give them behind-the-scenes jobs. They are too emotional to deal with the general public; they are likely to lose their temper.
Fact:
Listen to yourself! Do you hear that prejudiced tone? To accurately judge somebody's abilities or flaws, look at who the person is, not their label. The best way to judge who a person is is to look at their past behavior (credit record, past job performance, references, etc.) To judge somebody according to a category is prejudice.

Myth: Bipolar affective disorder is characterized by frequent mood swings.
Fact:
No. In fact, the opposite is often true (with the exception of some rapid cyclers). Bipolars often get stuck in one (high or low) mood, despite what happens in their lives. 

A bipolar woman may become manic and, regardless of anything bad that happens to her, stay manic for weeks, even months. A bipolar man may not be able to pull out of a depression for years.

In real life, good and bad things happen much more often than every few months. And the moods of those of us not diagnosed with bipolar disorder tend to correspond fairly well to what is actually happening. The moods of untreated bipolars, on the other hand, correspond more to the chemicals in their brains than to the events in their lives. This gives most bipolars less frequent mood swings than others, on average.

Myth: Look, I'm just trying to be honest: I have seen with my own eyes how bipolars tend to lose their tempers over practically nothing. Their calm mood swings into an angry mood at the drop of a hat.
Fact:
I will reciprocate your honesty. I have seen with my own eyes how people, upon learning that George is a bipolar, will goad George into an angry outburst. That is called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Most bipolars take medicine for it. Most of them become able to control their tempers as well as, and often better than, the rest of us. But they are still pre-judged as unable to control their tempers. That is called prejudice.

  Next Memo: How Our Meds Make Us Feel

Got feedback? Email Dr. Bradt at cassjmb10@att.net

Donít force behavior! 
Change attitudes.