By Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D
To truly end the stigma surrounding mental health, it’s important to understand the truths behind the causes, symptoms, and treatments of these disorders. It’s imperative to dispel the myths surrounding these illnesses in order to eradicate the fear and misconceptions so prevalent in families. Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D., Manager of Outpatient Behavioral Health Programs and the Psychiatric Emergency Team at the Laguna Beach campus of Mission Hospital, identifies the following as common misperceptions about mental health:
1. Children with a mental illness are more prone to violence.
When a tragic and violent crime occurs, people are too often quick to blame mental illness as being the driving factor. Unfortunately, this only further perpetuates the stigma that those with mental health disorders are unpredictable, prone to violence, and can’t be trusted. Results of several studies have been inconsistent in proving whether mental health or substance abuse is contributing to violent behavior. Multiple factors come into play such as family history and life stressors like divorce. It is hard to identify what exactly causes violent behavior.
2. Mental health issues, like depression or anxiety, are all in your child’s head. They’re not as serious as cancer or heart disease.
Mental health issues are not caused by personal weaknesses. It’s not uncommon for your child with depression or anxiety to hear something along the lines of “snap out of it” or “you’ll get over it,” but that’s not how it works. Comments like these discourage him or her from being open to seeking necessary help, as they feel ashamed that they are too weak.
3. Mental illness does not affect children or adolescents.
Too often people assume that mental health issues such as depression are just “facts of life” that are inevitable. It’s this outlook that leads people to believe that mental health does not impact children or adolescents, which is a dangerous assumption that can lead to life-altering illnesses going undiagnosed or overlooked for far too long.
Over half of all diagnosed mental health cases begin showing signs before the age of 14, and acknowledging and treating these cases early can make all the difference in how your child lives their adult life.
Kids and adolescents may show early warning signs that should be taken seriously not only so that they can receive treatment, but also to remind them that they have the support of loving friends and family who want to help them.
4. Mental illness is a result of a bad childhood.
While notable life experiences, like traumas and abuse, can certainly play a role in the development of a mental disorder. These ailments cannot be written off as solely being the result of poor parenting or a bad childhood. There are other biological and personal risk factors, such as a chemical imbalance or genetic susceptibility that have to be factored in when considering the root cause.
5. Your child’s with mental health problems can’t be helped.
Treatment varies for every individual, but a combination of medication, therapy, and a solid support system is generally the recipe for helping people with mental illnesses lead happy, healthy lives. Mental health issues are serious and require ongoing and comprehensive care, in which social support plays an extremely important role.
Being surrounded by friends and family that understand what your child is going through can make all the difference–something as simple as supporting him or her during an appointment or listening to any fears or concerns can be exactly what they need.
Debbie Hutchinson, Psy.D., is a manager, outpatient behavioral health programs and the psychiatric emergency team at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach. For additional information, visit http://www.mission4health.com/.