Debunking Myths About Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a month to provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness. Part of advocating for mental health is fighting the stigmas and debunking myths surrounding it. To do this, we have to first understand what mental health is. 

Everyone has mental health. It is the combination of our social, emotional and psychological well-being. These are driven by our biological make up (biotempermant and brain chemistry), our life experiences (environmental influencers, abuse, trauma) and family history. Our mental well-being contributes to how we think, our emotional experiences, how our body physiologically responds to stress and how we behave. This all impacts how we function in day to day life, our overall mindset, how we interact with others and how we make choices. 

Sanism is a form of discrimination or oppression of people with mental illness. Sanist behaviors and beliefs can be fueled by misinformation about mental health.

In This Article

Common Myths Surrounding Mental Health

Here are some of the common myths people have about mental health:

1. MYTH: Mental health problems aren’t very common.

FACT: Approximately 1 in 5 Americans are impacted by mental health struggles in a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 45,979 deaths by suicide in the United States in 2020. That is one death every 11 minutes. It is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14. The number of people who contemplate suicide or have attempted suicide without completion is significantly higher. 

Problematic myths about suicide are prevalent, so it’s important to learn the risk factors and signs.

2. MYTH: Children don’t experience mental health problems.

FACT: Fifty percent of mental health disorders demonstrate before a child turns 14 and three-quarters of symptoms begin by the age of 24. Biological, social and psychological factors can impact this and contribute to the development of deficits in a child’s mental health. Prevention is possible with early intervention. 

3. MYTH: People with mental health problems could get better only if they tried harder.

FACT: There are many contributing factors to mental health problems. Genes, brain chemistry, witness to or personally experiencing abuse/trauma, childhood neglect/abuse, impacts from medical conditions and many other internal and external experiences contribute to mental health problems. While it does take some personal effort to understand and manage one’s mental health conditions, getting better often requires engagement with trained professionals, support from family and friends, medication, and treatment.

4. MYTH: People with mental problems are unpredictable and violent.

FACT: The attribution of violent and unpredictable behavior to people with mental illnesses has been prevalent in society for a long time. In reality, most people with mental illness, including more severe conditions, are largely non-violent. People with serious mental conditions are only responsible for around 3%-5% of violent crimes. While people with mental health struggles are perceived to be more violent than the average person — however, they are actually 10 times more likely to be on the receiving end of violence.

5. MYTH: Nothing can protect people from developing mental health conditions.

FACT: Mental health conditions can develop due to various factors, from social circumstances to family history. We can protect people from developing mental health challenges by addressing known risk factors and promoting good mental-well being. Some people can be at higher risk than others depending on their biology, exposure to trauma or their environment and relationships. 

Promoting good mental health practices in early life is vital in protecting and preventing some conditions. Children and young people can achieve this by communicating their feelings, building and maintaining strong relationships, getting good sleep, avoiding illicit substance use, and staying physically active.

6. MYTH: Young people that have friends and succeed in school don’t experience mental health problems.

FACT: Mental health disorders can affect anyone, even people who have many friends and do well in school. While some people’s lives may appear good, they might struggle internally with keeping up certain standards, like consistently getting good grades. Myths about depression might make it seem like anyone suffering from this condition is a loner — however, young people can be surrounded by many friends and still find it difficult to open up to them about their emotions.

According to the CDC, of adolescents aged 12-27, 15.1% reported a major depressive episode and 36.7% had persistent sadness or hopelessness. There might be identifiable factors that contribute to the mental health struggles young people face, while some may experience depression or feelings of sadness without knowing the cause.

7. MYTH: People with a mental illness cannot work or hold down jobs.

 FACT: People with mental illness are capable of working and doing well at their jobs. When an illness is more severe, it can contribute to higher rates of unemployment — however, most people with a mental health challenge work regardless of their condition and are just as productive as anyone else. 

A national survey found that the employment rate of people with mental illness increases in relation to decreasing severity of the condition. For example, about 68.8% of people with mild conditions were employed compared to 54.5% for those with more serious conditions.

Learning more about these conditions can help educate employers. For example, debunking myths about anxiety can encourage employers to promote working practices that reduce stress, which benefits everyone.

Help Break the Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health

Many myths and stigmas still surround mental health and mental health treatment. We don’t hesitate to go to a medical professional for a broken bone or strep throat. And yet, many suffering from mental health challenges hesitate to seek out professionals for treatment. 

By expanding our understanding of mental health we can inspire individuals to seek additional education and prompt others to help debunk stigmas and stereotypes. Mental Illness is not something a person simply “gets over” without treatment, be it therapy, medication management or a combination of the two. Some might require shorter-term interventions and others may require significant, long-term support. 

This May, consider how you can support and encourage the normalization of seeking professional consultation and treatment. We all have mental health, and together we can reframe the way mental health is perceived. Contact us to learn more about mental illness and the health treatment services we offer at Hillside.


  • Hillside Lead Therapist – Residential Treatment Program - Christina has been working with adolescents and their families at Hillside for over 13 years. She has numerous advanced and specialized DBT protocol training including - Prolong Exposure, DBT- C, and DBT- PTSD. In addition to DBT, Christina is also certified in Theraplay®. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, two adventurous boys, and their rescue pup. The family loves the beach, boating, hiking and cheering on Atlanta United and the Georgia Bulldogs.

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