During Mental Health Awareness Month, VA Maryland Health Care System Busts Myths about Mental Illness

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The Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System wants to busts myths about mental illness to encourage those needing treatment to seek it and to provide facts about mental illness, which is surprisingly common, affecting nearly every family in the nation. June is National Mental Health Awareness Month and no time like the present to bust myths often associated with mental illness.

Unfortunately, many myths about mental illness can become barriers to treatment. No one wants to be viewed or judged by the common misconceptions when in reality they are not true,” says Dr. Amy Drapalski, a researcher at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

What do Isaac Newton, Ludwig van Beethoven, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Virginia Wolf, William Styron, Brooke Shields, and Carrie Fisher have in common? Each achieved outstanding accomplishments in their fields, and each has suffered from a mental illness. During June, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Health Care System wants to busts myths about mental illness to encourage those needing treatment to seek it and to provide facts about mental illness, which is surprisingly common, affecting nearly every family in the nation.

A glarying myth about people diagnosed with a mental illness is that they are unproductive and do not contribute to society. “Unfortunately, many myths about mental illness can become barriers to treatment. No one wants to be viewed or judged by the common misconceptions when in reality they are not true” says Dr. Amy Drapalski, a mental health researcher in the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, a division of the VA Maryland Health Care System. Drapalski is working on a study examining the effectiveness of a group aimed at helping people learn tools or strategies to more effectively respond to stigma and to reduce self-stigma that individuals with mental health concerns may experience. Drapalski notes the importance of distinguishing between the person and the illness rather than clinging to old stigmas attached to mental health conditions.

Learning facts to correct myths about mental illness can also help overcome barriers to treatment, employment and other activities, she says.“Having a mental illness is not a character flaw or a weakness, and just like recovery from any other condition, people with a diagnosis of mental illness can recover better with the proper support.”

Below are some other myths and facts about people diagnosed with mental illness:

MYTH: People with mental illness are violent and dangerous.
FACT: People with mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence. As in the general population, only a small percentage of people with mental illness ever commit a violent crime.

MYTH: People with mental illness do not make significant contributions to society.
FACT: Many accomplished people have or had a mental illness. Others not mentioned in the list above include Herschel Walker, Ernest Hemingway, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Shawn Colvin and many more. Non-famous people with mental illness make important contributions to society, their communities and their families every day.

MYTH: People who have mental illness cannot get better.
FACT: People can and do recover from mental illness when they have the proper tools and support. Many people with mental illness are in recovery and lead active lives. Many recover completely.

MYTH: People with mental illness need constant assistance.
FACT: Many people with mental illness live independently in their own homes, manage their own money, arrange their own social activities and hold jobs. Everyone, with a mental illness or not, needs assistance sometimes.

MYTH: People with mental illness are unpredictable and unreliable.
FACT: Like everyone, people with mental illness can sometimes behave in unpredictable ways. However, most of the time, people with mental illness present few surprises to those who know them. Once they know themselves, people can be aware of what they can commit to and carry through and most are dedicated to their values and responsibilities.

MYTH: People with mental illness are stupid.
FACT: Many studies show that people with mental illness have average or above average intelligence. Like physical illness, mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of intelligence or socio-economic level.

MYTH: There’s nothing I can do for someone with a mental illness.
FACT: You can do much more than you realize to help a person with a mental illness. Treating people diagnosed with mental illness with respect and dignity, speaking out when hearing myths being perpetuated, respecting the rights of people diagnosed with a mental illness by not discriminating against them when it comes to housing, employment, or educational opportunities are things everyone can do to help a person diagnosed with a mental illness.
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The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to veterans at two medical centers, one community living & rehabilitation center and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 veterans from various generations receive care from the VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, the VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future copayments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit http://www.maryland.va.gov.

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Rosalia Scalia