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The Myths of Mental Illness

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To commemorate Mental Health Month, we asked a few of our expert clinicians the question:

What are some of our culture’s most common and pervasive myths about mental illness?


From Kathleen Gettelfinger, LMFT:

Too often people feel that mental illness is a choice. In the same way that one would not choose to have cancer or heart disease, those afflicted by mental illness are not choosing to feel depressed, anxious, or otherwise afflicted.


From Cheryl Rampage, PhD, Executive Vice President of The Family Institute and Associate Director for Programs and Academic Affairs at The Center for Applied Psychological and Family Studies:

First, that it is some sort of weakness, rather than a medical condition. Second, that because it’s “mental” it should be controllable by the conscious mind, and third, that people with mental illnesses are dangerous to the rest of us. While it is true that a small percentage of mentally ill people become violent, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.


From David Hauser, PhD:

-It is false to believe that a person can be defined or wholly understood via a diagnosis.

-It is a myth to think there are some people with mental illness that are “lost causes.”

-It is a myth that whatever might be wrong in your life right now, always leads back to some shortcoming by your mother or family of origin.


From Lisa Gordon, PhD:

Mental illness happens to “those” people.  Mental illness happens to “other” people.  Seeking treatment for mental illness, whether in the form of psychotherapy or medication, means that the person lacks strength to combat the mental illness alone.  Seeking treatment for mental illness is akin to taking fish oil or calcium, participating in a weekly yoga class, eating whole grains, or sleeping 8 hours nightly.  Recognize your human limitations and reach for what keeps you healthy and whole and your best self.


The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Lagrange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

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