An association for the support of persons suffering from mental illnesses and their families

Myths and Worrying symptoms

Myths and Misconceptions About Mental Illnesses

There are many myths and misconceptions about mental health mainly because of persisting ignorance about mental illnesses and their symptoms.

Myth: Persons with a mental illness are violent or dangerous.

Fact: There are more incidents of violent behaviour in general hospitals and health centres than in mental hospitals. Violent incidents reported in the press are only very rarely due to persons with mental disorders. Statistics prove that mental health sufferers are less likely to commit a violent crime than members of the general public. Such patients are rarely dangerous. Sufferers of both sexes are more usually the victims than the perpetrators of abuse and physical violence, including sexual

Myth: People with mental health problems are lazy and lack willpower

Fact: For a very long time, the mental illnesses of people famous for their remarkable achievements remained taboo subjects. But as there is now greater awareness of mental health issues, more and more people are going public about their mental health problems. There is the famous case of John Nash, the genius mathematician who won a Nobel Prize and who was for a large part of his life disabled by severe paranoid schizophrenia. A very successful film of his life has been made entitled 'Beautiful Mind'.

There are numerous other cases of persons who have made invaluable contributions in the fields of politics (eg Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln), art (Van Gogh, Camille Claudel, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf), academia (John Nash), business (Howard Hughes, billionaire about whose extraordinary life the film 'The Aviator' has been made).

There are also many others who are not as well known but who have had very fruitful lives and made valuable contributions for their families and their communities.

Such cases also explode the myth that people with mental health problems lack intelligence.

Myth: Mental health sufferers cannot change.

Fact: There are many cases which show that with treatment, people with mental health problems can recover and return to healthy, productive lives. Many can hold down a job if they accept their illness and are on regular medication.

The unfortunate thing is that people often avoid treatment mostly because they do not want to be stigmatized as being mentally ill. Therefore a change of attitude of the general public towards mental health is just as important as medical treatment or therapy.

Myth: Persons with mental illnesses are responsible for having become ill.

Fact: People do not choose to have mental health problems. Mental health problems are not due to character flaws or lack of willpower. Medical research is yielding more and more evidence of the biochemical and genetic causes of the more severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Many countries now encourage persons with mental health problems to integrate into the community after treatment because people with mental health problems are perfectly capable of participating in community life. Successful integration however depends on regular medication, follow up and most importantly on support and acceptance from society.

Myth: Mental health sufferers do not have the same feelings as 'normal' persons.

Fact: Not at all! They are people with the same dreams, aspirations and ambitions as any others. They want to live full lives. They however have special needs and sometimes have to adjust their dreams and aspirations to accommodate their health requirements. They need more support than other people who do not have such health problems.

A supportive community makes the necessary arrangements to accommodate such needs in the same way as they accommodate those of persons with physical disabilities.

Famous people suffering from mental illness

Many famous persons from all over the world have had mental health problems. Some well known cases are:

Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States of America, who suffered from very severe, disabling and sometimes even suicidal depressions.

Ludwig Van Beethoven, the famous composer, suffered from manic depression, as we learn from Schauffler's biography: Beethoven .

Leo Tolstoy, the famous author who wrote War and Peace, one of the world's greatest novels, described his own mental illness in My Confession.

Charles Dickens: One of the greatest authors in the English language suffered from depression.

The one case which has recently been the most documented is that of John Nash, genius mathematician and Nobel Prize winner. At the age of 30 he became ill and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was virtually incapacitated for the following 20 years and lost his job at the prestigious Massachussets Institute of Technology where he was working. The disease began to recede when he was around 50 and he returned to his research work on mathematics, winning the Nobel Prize.

Howard Hughes (1905-1976) is another person whose case has had a lot of media attention with the film 'The Aviator'. Hughes was one of the richest men in the world. He became famous for building the Hercules aircraft. By the 1950s, he developed very severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which almost completely disabled him. He became a recluse and locked himself away.

A number of artists, such as Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Claudel, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, have experienced very severe mental disorders at some point in their lives.

As John Dryden writes so well (Absalom and Achitophel 1681):

"Great Wits are sure to madness near allies

And thin partitions do their bounds divide."

Mental illness does not affect a person's ability or intelligence but can be very severely disabling if not recognized and treated.



the way you look people who suffer from a mental illness

People who are afflicted with a mental illness endure constant anguish and fight a daily battle to face the world. The time has come to change our outlook on the mentally ill.

Our judgemental gaze hurts them and only increases their feeling of loneliness. By changing the way we look at people affected by a psychiatric disorder, by accepting and respecting them, we could already be helping them get better.

We are all vulnerable. Mental illness can affect anybody. The causes are still not very well known. We are all concerned. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a curse or punishment.

Help us give hope! Your support is vital.

Contact Friends in Hope! email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Tel: 454 0849