mental health myths and facts

Many harmful myths surround the subject of mental illness. It’s important for us to learn the truth behind these myths — and have empathy for those suffering with mental illness.

Jack F. Cahalane, PhD, chief of Adult Mood and Anxiety Services at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC, sheds some light on these common misconceptions.

Learn more about the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC. Call 412-624-2100.

Myth: Cases of mental health problems are rare


  • 20 percent of people in the United States have a mental health problem
  • 15 percent of men are depressed
  • 20 percent of women will experience an episode of major depression in their lifetime

Myth: People with mental health disorders are more prone to violent behavior than others

Fact: This simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s more likely for people living with mental illness to be the victims of violent crime.

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“When people see events in the news and hear that someone may have mental illness, they make that connection,” says Dr. Cahalane. “But people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crimes.”

Find help by calling the re:solve Crisis Network at 1-888-796-8226

Myth: Personal weakness causes mental health disorders

Fact: “Mental illnesses are brain diseases — they’re not weaknesses or character flaws,” explains Dr. Cahalane.

Mental health issues are like other illnesses, except they’re in the brain.

Myth: People with mental health disorders can’t hold a job

Fact: You come across people managing a mental health concern all the time in everyday life. Most people living with a mental health issue don’t talk about it because of the stigma attached.

“Most people who experience a mental illness continue to function very well,” adds Dr. Cahalane.

Myth: Just think positive, and it’ll go away

Fact: Mental illnesses such as depression rob a person of the ability to think positively about themselves and the future. Brushing aside that the illness is serious can have negative repercussions, says Dr. Calahane.

“I think there is a danger in saying to someone, ‘You have this and that going for you, so just think positive.’ Such comments imply that the person should be able to do that when they really can’t.”

Myth: There’s nothing you can do to help

Fact: It can be hard to think positively about yourself when dealing with a mental health issue. Half of those suffering from depression do not seek treatment.

“That’s why it’s important to provide support and understanding. Educate yourself about the illness and encourage the person to seek treatment. Many people don’t seek treatment because they’re embarrassed or don’t know who to see. Or they think it’s a personal flaw and feel responsible for it,” explains Dr. Cahalane.

Mental health disorders can be isolating. If the person doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you, encourage them to talk with their family doctor or a trusted confidant.

Myth: Children don’t experience mental illness

Fact: Nearly one in five children have a mental illness.

“For many people, mental health problems begin in childhood,” explains Dr. Cahalane, “so it’s important for parents to recognize the warning signs.”

Behavioral changes to be aware of in children include:

  • A drop in school grades
  • Self-isolation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to sleep

Myth: Stress causes mental health breakdowns

Fact: This is true.

“Stress can play a role in mental health,” warns Dr. Cahalane. “Experiencing a mental health issue can be very stressful for both the person and their family members.”

Myth: You should wait until it gets bad to seek treatment

Fact: You need immediate treatment if a mental health issue is negatively impacting your ability to function or enjoy everyday life. Mental illness doesn’t just go away on its own. The longer you wait, the harder it can be to treat.

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About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.