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Three Myths About Psychiatric Patients

August 19, 2015 Becky Oberg

What are three myths about psychiatric patients? There are many misconceptions about mental health consumers, largely fueled by stigma and ignorance. I've dealt with three psychiatric patient myths over the course of my life, each one harmful in its own way.

Psychiatric Patient Myth #1: Psychiatric Patients Are Violent

I will admit to groaning every time there's a high-profile crime committed that involves a psychiatric patient. We have enough to deal with without the public thinking we're ticking time bombs. While the average mental health consumer is more likely to be the victim of violent crime than the perpetrator, this is not what people believe. Former United States Surgeon General David Satcher wrote:

Why is stigma so strong despite better public understanding of mental illness? The answer appears to be fear of violence: people with mental illness, especially those with psychosis, are perceived to be more violent in the past. This finding begs yet another question: Are people with mental disorders truly more violent? Research supports some public concerns, but the overall likelihood of violence is low. The greatest risk of violence is from those who have dual diagnoses, i.e., individuals who have a mental disorder as well as a substance abuse disorder. There is a small elevation in risk of violence from individuals with severe mental disorders (e.g., psychosis) especially if they are non-compliant with their medication. Yet the risk of violence is much less for a stranger than for a family member or person who is known to the person with mental illness. In fact, there is very little risk of violence or harm to a stranger from casual contact with an individual who has a mental disorder. Because the average person is ill-equipped to judge whether someone who is behaving erratically has any of these disorders, alone or in combination, the natural tendency is to be wary.

This myth is so strong that a popular advice columnist wrote that people with my diagnosis should be locked up and forced to take medication. We wouldn't do that for heart disease because we don't think cardiac illness causes violence. But because we, as a society, believe that mental illness causes violence, we support forced treatment.

Psychiatric Patient Myth #2: Psychiatric Patients Are Stupid

myths-psychiatric-patients-healthyplaceThis is another common psychiatric patient myth. A mental health diagnosis does not mean the person lacks intelligence. But for some reason, people assume that mental illness equals intellectual disability. In my state, Indiana, state psychiatric facilities routinely hold people who are not mentally ill but have an intellectual disability--as recently as 2008 these people were referred to as "M.R.s". This may be why so many people think psychiatric patients are stupid.

If I had a dollar for every time a mental health professional talked down to me, I could retire. Many people are surprised, after reading my file, that I have a college education. On the flip side, many people who see my academic record are surprised to learn I have a mental illness. It's as if being intelligent and having a mental illness are exclusive.

Psychiatric Patient Myth #3: Psychiatric Patients Don't Know What's Happening to Them

While there are some psychiatric patients that don't know what's happening to them, the vast majority do. My former landlord seemed to believe this myth. The apartment complex was infested with bedbugs, roaches, mice, and rats. The landlord refused to do anything about it because we weren't credible due to our diagnoses. But trust me, I was aware that my conditions were unacceptable.

This myth is why it's so hard to file complaints without a corroborative witness. I know of one case where there was a recording of a person being abused who got justice only because her social worker had a copy of the recording. People need to understand that psychiatric patients are aware of our treatment.

Those are three myths about psychiatric patients that I've encountered. What myths have you heard?

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, August 19). Three Myths About Psychiatric Patients, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2015/08/three-myths-about-psychiatric-patients



Author: Becky Oberg

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