Don’t trust everything you see on the Internet: Mental health myths to ignore
Thanks to the internet and social media, we now have access to more high-quality information about mental health than ever before. Unfortunately, myths and misconceptions about mental health can also spread online as easily as the latest TikTok trend.
For example, an Everyday Health article notes a recent rise in teens using social media to “self-diagnose” serious mental health disorders. Not only is this dangerous – only experienced professionals can make these diagnoses – but also because the information being shared is not always accurate or helpful.
“It’s important to recognize this and to make sure that we are checking information we are reliant upon regarding our own mental health against several different places or platforms in order to find information that is reliable,” says psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD, in the Everyday Health article.
When the subject is as important as mental health, we must work to separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1: When it comes to mental health, we’re at the mercy of our biology.
You might have heard someone say a particular mental health disorder “runs in the family.” Researchers have long suspected genes play a role in how likely we are to develop mental illness. According to an overview in the American Journal of Psychiatry, data from the study of twins have estimated that:
- Heritability – the measure of how much the variability in a trait can be contributed to genetic factors – for anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and major depressive disorder is about 20-45%.
- Heritability for alcohol dependence and anorexia nervosa are 50-60%.
- Heritability for bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders (ASD), schizophrenia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more than 75%.
Yet, having a family member with a mental health disorder does not mean you will develop it. Learning more about their condition may empower you in recognizing the symptoms and taking care of your own mental health.
Mental health disorders are treatable. You can and should seek help for a mental health condition, whether you inherited it or not, just like you would for a physical illness. Although disorders can be treated at any stage, early intervention during childhood can be helpful, according to the Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials newsletter.
“Think of mental illness as you would any other family-linked health concern,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD, in the Health Essentials newsletter. “Do your best to become educated about the condition and symptoms so you can be on the lookout.”
In the newsletter, Dr. Bea recommends “building resiliency to help [kids] deal with the emotions their thoughts cause. You may not be able to ward off a mental health diagnosis entirely, but you can lessen how severely a person will experience it.”
Myth #2: People with mental health problems just need to pull themselves out of it.
Despite the similarities to physical illness, there’s a persistent stigma that people – including seniors – who suffer from mental health conditions can just “snap out of it” if they want to, or if they try hard enough. That’s simply not true, according to MentalHealth.gov, a U.S. government resource for mental health information.
It’s important to understand that a mental health problem is not moral weakness or inability to manage day-to-day life.
“No one should feel bad about having a mental illness,” Dr. Bea says in the Health Essentials newsletter. “Would you feel responsible if your spleen ruptured? You probably wouldn’t, because most bodily processes are beyond our control. We need to think about mental health the same way and erode the stigmas.”
Stigma is, in fact, one of the barriers that keeps people from seeking mental health care. Mental illness is common – in a given year, nearly one in five U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – but less than half of those people are treated for their conditions.
In 2020, among the 52.9 million adults with any form of diagnosable mental illness, only 24.3 million (46.2%) had received mental health services in the past year.
Understanding that people can’t just “snap out” mental illness may help more people seek and find treatment.
Myth #3: Every depression medicine works the same for every person.
Unfortunately, fewer than 40% of people with depression achieve depression remission with their first medication, according to an article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
When medications fail patients, doctors and patients often embark on a trial-and-error process – trying different medications, different dosages, or a combination of both – to try to find medication(s) that help their symptoms without causing unwanted side effects.
Not being able to find medications that work using the trial-and-error method can be a discouraging experience. In a GeneSight® Mental Health Monitor nationwide survey, when people with depression take a medication that does not help them, they reported feeling frustrated (80%), angry (32%) or scared (30%). The nationwide survey found that only 8% of people with depression remain hopeful after a depression medication fails them.
Additionally, more than half of people diagnosed with depression reported that they have tried four or more depression medications in their lifetime, the nationwide poll found.
“Imagine having bronchitis and waiting months to know if the medication prescribed is working. That’s months of coughing, shortness of breath and feeling sick,” said Mark Pollack, M.D., chief medical officer for Mental Health at Myriad Genetics. “Yet, that’s what people with mental health problems deal with when trying to find medication that helps them – months of negative thoughts, physical symptoms and emotional turmoil.”
The body’s ability to respond to medications is impacted by many factors such as drug/drug interactions, food/drug interactions, lifestyle factors, age, allergies – and your unique genetic code. The last factor is where the GeneSight test comes in.
The GeneSight test is a pharmacogenomic test that analyzes how your DNA may affect outcomes with medications used to treat depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health conditions. The GeneSight test can help inform your doctor about which medications may require dose adjustments, may be less likely to work, or may have an increased risk of side effects based on your genetic makeup.
Myth #4: Full recovery from mental illness is rare.
Studies show that people with mental illness do get better, according to MentalHealth.gov. While the illness may never go away and could require continued treatment, recovery means a person is able to improve their health.
The goal of healthcare providers in treating mental health issues like depression is remission. An article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that patients most frequently judged the following criteria to be very important in determining remission from depression: “The presence of features of positive mental health such as optimism and self-confidence; a return to one’s usual, normal self; and a return to usual level of functioning.”
Doctors may also use the HAM-D17 depression tool to determine if a patient’s depression is in recovery or remission (you can read more about this in our blog post).
The first step toward recovery and remission is to get help. If you think you or a loved one might have a mental health condition, you can make an appointment to see your doctor or a mental health professional.
Searching for hope
With so much information available online, it’s easier than it used to be to find help for mental health issues and track down science-backed resources. You can use the information you find online as a jumping-off point for your research.
“There are many accounts, hosted by educated, trained, and licensed professionals where reliable information can be found,” says Dr. Dodgen-Magee in the Everyday Health article.
For example, the article suggests using credible sites to search for mental health professionals. “Resources like the American Psychiatric Association and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America offer search tools to help you find a professional near you.”
It’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is unique, and only a doctor can diagnose you with a mental health disorder. Don’t let myths stand in your way when it comes to looking for hope, and help, for mental health conditions.
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Our articles are for informational purposes only and are reviewed by our Medical Information team, which includes PharmDs, MDs, and PhDs. Do not make any changes to your current medications or dosing without consulting your healthcare provider.
The GeneSight test must be ordered by and used only in consultation with a healthcare provider who can prescribe medications. As with all genetic tests, the GeneSight test results have limitations and do not constitute medical advice. The test results are designed to be just one part of a larger, complete patient assessment, which would include proper diagnosis and consideration of your medical history, other medications you may be taking, your family history, and other factors.
If you are a healthcare provider and interested in learning more about the GeneSight test, please call us at 855.891.9415. If you are a patient, please talk with your doctor to see if the GeneSight test may be helpful.