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It’s easy to get some wildly inaccurate ideas about mental illnesses from media misrepresentations and uninformed opinions. Here are some of the most common myths, busted.
Understanding of depression is improving, but there’s a stereotype of a depressed person as being lazy, or lacking motivation. This isn’t true. Depression is a real, debilitating disease which can rob people of energy just like a heavy flu can.
Related: Depression factsheet
Schizophrenia has nothing to do with ‘split personality’.
Related: Schizophrenia factsheet
People who live with dissociative identity disorder present alternate personalities as a way of coping, usually with the emotional consequences of trauma.
Obsessive compulsive disorder is often portrayed as enthusiastic neatness or funny tics — it’s common to hear people describe themselves as ‘a bit OCD’ because they’re organised. That’s not OCD.
Related: Busting the myths about OCD
People with borderline personality disorder have difficulty managing their emotions and impulses, relating to people and maintaining a stable self-image.
BPD can be highly distressing for the person affected, and often for their family and friends too, but it’s a very real, very treatable illness.
It’s not yet clear exactly why, after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, or having long-term exposure to traumatic experiences, or being close to someone with post-traumatic stress, some people develop PTSD and some don’t. But we know it isn’t related to some idea of being ‘strong’ or ‘weak’.
People can experience PTSD after having their sense of safety and control suddenly taken away from them. Violence is a common trigger, but other triggers can lead to PTSD, and there is even evidence that a predisposition for post-traumatic stress can be genetically inherited.
‘I’m so bipolar about that’ is starting to become more common as a way of saying ‘sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t.’
That’s not bipolar disorder. People with bipolar experience periods of powerful depression and ‘highs’ of mania or hypomania that can cause extreme psychological distress.
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Brewin, CR., Andrews, B., & Valentine, JD. (2000). Meta-Analysis of Risk Factors for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Trauma-Exposed Adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 68, pp.748-766.
Sartor, CE., Grant, JD., Lynskey, MT., McCutcheon, VV, Waldron, M., Statham, DJ., Bucholz, KK., Madden, PAF., Heath, AC., Martin, NG. and Nelson, EC. (2012). Common Heritable Contributions to Low-Risk Trauma, High-Risk Trauma, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and Major Depression. Archives of general psychiatry. Volume 69(3), pp.293-299.