Understanding Psychiatry: Busting Myths

By Dr Samir Parikh

Having worked in the field of mental health for almost two decades, I have witnessed a significant increase in the awareness and education related to the field of mental health, especially with the growing exposure of various media platforms. However, there still exists a large section of the population which is shrouded in misconceptions related to mental illnesses and associated factors. There are yet many myths and misconceptions related to mental health, which are deeply embedded in the experiences shared by people in my varied interactions. So, let us take a look at some of the common myths associated with understanding psychiatry and mental health.

Busting 5 Myths and Misconceptions in Mental Health

  1. Mental illness is a sign of weakness or character deficit: On the contrary, mental illnesses are well-recognised medical illnesses, which require adequate and timely professional interventions including a combination of psychiatric medications as well as psychological counseling to help the individual in distress alleviation as well as resuming functionality across personal, social as well as occupational spheres.
    Recent statistics suggest that 1 in 5 people across the world are likely to be suffering from a mental illness at least once in their lifetime, and the development of these illnesses is not implicated by a single causative factor, and instead is the result of an interaction of biological, psychological and social factors within a larger context.
  2. Depression can be overcome by exerting one’s will power: As with other medical illnesses, the role of professional help is irreplaceable. Depression is a medical illness which is caused by an imbalance in the levels neurotransmitters in the brain, for example serotonin, which has been implicated in mental illnesses like anxiety as well as depression. Therefore, one cannot just snap out of depression. The role of professional treatment, including both psychiatric medications as well as psychological therapies is essential for the treatment of depression. In fact, if left untreated over a prolonged period of time, there are greater chances of the individual feeling more helpless and hopeless and might also lead to suicidal tendencies.
  3. Medications for mental illnesses are addictive and last life-long, making the person dull and vegetative: The treatment for psychiatric illnesses require psychopharmacological approaches as an essential component. Moreover, the medications are directed at regulating the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain are given for a given period of time in accordance to the duration of the symptoms, the course of the illness, and the impact on the individual’s levels of functioning.
  4. Talking about mental illnesses only makes it worse: Contrary to popular myth, talking about the signs and symptoms, for example, of depression, is instead beneficial as it helps the individual to release their pent-up feelings and thoughts, thereby serving a cathartic purpose. Therefore, we should encourage talking about it and promote help seeking behaviour.
  5. Recovery from mental illnesses is not possible: Even though a variety of mental disorders require treatment for a very long time — often life-long — with early identification, and adequate and timely intervention, an individual with most of these disorders can be treated and helped to lead a happy and healthier life, and a healthy level of functioning.

    Dr Samir Parikh (@dr_samirparikh) is a consultant psychiatrist based in Delhi, and the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.



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