Challenging Mental Health Myths and Stereotypes

One of the most discriminatory stereotypes that persist is the incorrect association between mental health problems and violent behavior. People often avoid living or socializing with people with mental health challenges because they assume people with mental health challenges are dangerous and violent. As a result, these individuals often face all sorts of discrimination. Stigma and discrimination can also lead to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness, and may stop people from seeking mental health care.

The media play a significant role in portraying that people with mental health problems are violent. There are few positive stories that highlight the recovery processes of individuals with serious mental health challenges and family members. On television, characters with mental illness are often depicted as the most dangerous of all groups. Many people believe this stereotype. However, a review of research on violence and mental illness has found that the contribution of people with mental health challenges to overall rates of violence is small. “Most people with mental health problems are not violent and most people who are violent are not mentally ill.

• Studies have shown that the estimated risk of violence by people with mental health problems ranges from 3% to 5%.
• People with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violence compared to those without mental health problems.
• In a 2013 British survey among persons with severe mental health problems, it was found that:

– 45% had been victims of crime in the previous year.
– 1 in 5 had experienced a violent assault.
– people with mental health problems were 3 times more likely to be a victim of assault and any crime than those without.
– women with severe mental health problems were 10 times more likely to experience assault than those without.
– people with mental health problems were more likely to report that the police had been unfair to them compared to the general population.

Myth: Only certain people have mental health.
Fact: we all have mental health that can move up and down, just like our physical health.

Myth: Physical health problems are worse than mental health problems.
Fact: just because you can’t see a mental illness doesn’t mean it’s any less painful or debilitating than a broken arm. A mental health problem can feel just as bad or worse than any other illness and needs just as much support.

Myth: you can’t recover from a mental illness.
Fact: what is often misunderstood about mental health problems is that they don’t define a person or their potential in life. Recovery is possible with the right support and people can and do go on to lead rewarding and fulfilling lives.

• Myth: Mental health problems are rare.
Fact: Mental health problems are common and it’s likely you will know someone who has experienced them. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime.

• Myth: Mental health problems are a sign of weakness.
Fact: Mental health problems are not a sign of weakness just as a broken leg is not. They are a common part of human experience and can happen to anyone from any walk of life. Many high-profile, successful, and inspirational people have experienced mental ill health and many people gain strength from the experience.

Adapted from Change Your Mind: www.changeyourmindni.org

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