My favourite is the life support one!!!
My favourite is the life support one!!!

This will be the first of three posts I will do over the next three months. I want to examine some issues around mental illness – firstly some myths, secondly, mental illness and the Gospel and finally, a bit of a surprise (code for I’m still working on it!!!).

I think we have come a long way in understanding and dealing with mental illness in the past 20 years or so. We have a little way to go, but the days of frontal lobotomies, deep sleep therapy and acts such as the Dangerous Lunatic Act 1843 are behind us.

However the discrimination, for my view, has been the last to change. Misperceptions remain in the public domain and are perpetuated by many, including those who mean well. Discrimination, also, remains. Think of how it would be for you or those you know to approach your employer and disclose a mental illness.

So what are some common myths about mental illness? (Statistics will be from the National Institute of Mental Health (USA) and Mindframe (Australia))

Myth:    True mental illnesses are actually quite rare

Reality: One in five of us this year will suffer a mental illness. Lifetime risk is one in two.

Myth:    Most mental illnesses occur in older adults, not young people.

Reality: Prevalence of mental illness decreases with age, with prevalence greatest among 18-24 year olds.

Myth:    People with mental illness are dangerous and violent.

Reality: There appears to be a weak statistical association between mental illness and violence. This seems to be concentrated in certain subgroups, for example – people not receiving treatment who have a history of violence, and those who abuse drugs or alcohol. However, the association between mental illness and violence is still weaker than the association between violence and alcohol abuse in general, or between violence and being a young male between 15 and 25 years of age.

Myth:    Schizophrenia is a split personality

Reality: Schizophrenia is an illness marked by “positive” symptoms (hallucinations, delusions) and “negative” symptoms (flat affect, amotivation). Prevalence is about 1:100. A split personality is most often referring to what is now called Dissassociative Identity Disorder. It is marked by the presence of distinct personalities present in the same person and is often accompanied by amnesic states. Its prevalence varies greatly between cultures.

Misunderstanding about mental illness cause many people to say and do some pretty dumb things. I was working with a colleague one day and we were talking about various things, and the topic of mental illness arose. His comment, “Mental illness is just people bunging it on (Australian slang for pretending or not genuine. It’s just an attention seeking thing – mental illness does not exist”.

Come on gang – what is the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard anyone say about mental illness???