Top NARSAD Mental Health Myths Numbers 4, 8 & 9

Myths numbers 4, 8 & 9: depression, “mental illness”, and substance abuse have nothing to do with strength of character, willpower, and self-control.

Our mental health jokes have all the answers. “Depression stems from a change in brain chemistry or brain function.” I have to laugh. Laughter is a good cure for depression. Depressed people should try it sometime.

Myth #4: Depression results from a personality weakness or character flaw, and people who are depressed could just snap out of it if they tried hard enough.

Fact: Depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function, and medication and/or psychotherapy often help people to recover.

~The Top Ten Myths About Mental Illness

What this “fact” doesn’t explain is that this “fact” is based upon a theory, and therefore it is a subject open to dispute and testing. The scientific method is not about proving, the scientific method is about disproving. I submit that there is little evidence that depression isn’t the result of a personality weakness or a character flaw.

How have we come to determine that a person intent on feeling badly isn’t simply acting stubborn? We simply haven’t made any such determination. The key word here is “act”. If you are “acting” sad, try “acting” happy. If you “act” happy long enough, given time and facility, perhaps belief will follow. Anyway, it would be a good proposition for us to test if anyone were willing to take a swing at it.

Myth #8: If you have a mental illness, you can will it away. Being treated for a psychiatric disorder means an individual has in some way “failed” or is weak.

Fact: A serious mental illness cannot be willed away. Ignoring the problem does not make it go away, either. It takes courage to seek professional help.

Hello?! The person who has not gotten rid of a psychiatric disorder, who desires to do so, has failed to do so. The person who has gotten rid of a psychiatric disorder, who desired to do so, has succeeded in doing so. The person who succeeds in getting over a psychiatric disorder, who desired to get over a psychiatric disorder, has displayed more strength than the person who has failed to do so. Negative self-fulfilling prophesies of the sort depicted above are the kind of thing that a little bit of effort can change. “Willing” is not “ignoring”. Obviously you can’t sell treatment without also selling disease. Encourage people not to buy the disease, and there will be less people in need of treatment.

Myth #9: Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower. People with a substance abuse problem are morally weak or “bad”.

Fact: Addiction is a disease that generally results from changes in brain chemistry. It has nothing to do with being a “bad” person.

Some addicts succeed in overcoming their addiction, other addicts don’t succeed. I can’t imagine for one second that this success doesn’t have anything to do with willpower. People with substance abuse issues have a weakness for the substances they abuse. Overcoming this weakness is the way addictions come to an end. Addictions don’t cease without a display of willpower, a display of willpower that may require a corresponding change of lifestyle.

All three of the above myths arose out of treating “mental disorder” as a medical condition, the very first myth that came under our scrutiny in this series of posts. Having identified this first would-be fact as a myth, the other former facts collapse into myth like a chain of standing dominoes after the first one has been tapped. Apparently this myth/fact business pretty much depends on the theory to which a person subscribes.

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2 Responses

  1. The medical model of addictions has an 85% failure rate with treatment. And that’s treatment at the best facilities. You’d think that eventually the general public would be able to figure out that these people are doing it wrong.

    I’ve never had a major depressive episode. Sometimes in the winter I get what they call SADD. To me, it has nothing to do with the sunlight the way they claim it does, but everything to do with the cold. I’ve learned over the years to do what my body’s telling me to do- keep warm, sleep and eat lightly. This is the way our ancestors handled it years ago. It’s the way a lot of animals still handle it today. It’s actually very regenerative if you don’t fight it but accept it as a natural cycle of life.

    • Psychiatrists can’t obscure the fact that a chemical agent isn’t a virus, a bacteria, or an other-inflicted wound. People can see through some of the more obvious misconceptions spread by certain members of that profession. When you deal with the reasons why anybody would want to distort, or escape from, reality, you are beginning to tackle the actual problem. Even with substance abuse, it isn’t entirely about the drug.

      The good news is that SADD is a relatively minor thing. It’s this fissure between the major mental health diagnosis and the minor mental health diagnosis that causes so many problems. It’s the old schism between neurosis and psychosis. Minor, by some professionals, is seen as reparable whereas major is seen as somehow ‘beyond the pale’. Minor is seen as a matter of stress while major is seen as biological and genetic. I disagree with this evaluation. I’d like to think that many of those people labeled majorly affected are recoverable, too. I think the difference is just a matter of degree.

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