Mental Health Myths
Do you know what’s True or False?
Mental health problems affect about 2% of all children and youth.
False: In fact, about 20 percent of American children and youth experience a diagnosable mental health problem at any given time. That’s 1 in 5 children and youth living in the United States right now.
Mental illness is a type of mental retardation.
False: Mental retardation is characterized by limitations in intellectual functioning and difficulties with certain daily living skills. In contrast, people with mental illnesses – which are health conditions that cause changes in a person’s thinking, mood, and behavior – have varied intellectual functioning, just like the general population.
Children misbehave or fail in school just to get attention.
True and False: This is sometimes true, but not always. Behavior problems can be symptoms of emotional, behavioral, or mental disorders, rather than merely attention-seeking devices. Children with social, emotional, or behavioral issues can succeed in school with appropriate understanding, attention, and services and supports in place.
Social-emotional problems are brought on by a weakness of character.
False: Mental health disorders are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors.
Children’s mental health issues are just hormones run amok.
False: Hormones can play a role in the intensity of emotions, but the causes of mental health problems are many and complex. Many are caused by biology (genetics, chemical imbalances in the body, or damage to the central nervous system, such as a head injury) and others by environment (exposure to environmental toxins, such as high levels of lead; exposure to violence, such as witnessing or being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, drive-by shootings, muggings, or other disasters; stress related to chronic poverty, discrimination, or other serious hardships; and the loss of important people through death, divorce, or broken relationships).
Kids’ emotions are flighty. Just give them time, it’ll pass.
False: Diagnosable conditions, including depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, conduct, and eating disorders can become “Serious Emotional Disturbances” for children and adolescents when they severely disrupt daily functioning in home, school, or community.
Youth with mental health issues don’t always get the services they need.
True: Only about 1 in 5 children in the United States who need mental health services actually receive them. Uninsured children have a higher rate of unmet need than children with public or private insurance.
Every child has equal access to services.
False: Nationally, the rate of unmet needs is highest for minorities—88% of Latino children do not receive needed mental health care. African American youth are more likely to be sent to the juvenile justice system for behavioral problems than placed in psychiatric care. Orange County System of Care is working hard to increase access to services and supports in our community.
Youth with mental health problems don’t mind being called “crazy.”
False: Just like anybody else, youth with social, emotional, or behavioral challenges don’t like being called names. No one likes to be identified by their diagnosis, either. So, instead of saying someone “is bipolar,” you can say they “have bipolar disorder” or are a “person with bipolar disorder.” Using this kind of “people-first” language is an important step in distinguishing between the person and their diagnosis, and helps to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.
Youth are best served by one type of treatment at a time.
False: Most people don’t have just one problem at a time – they have multiple problems that require multiple services. The System of Care approach is an effective way of serving children with a wide range of mental health needs by providing coordinated services from different child-serving systems, including education, child welfare, juvenile justice, primary health care and substance abuse. It reduces the need for out-of-home placements that can strain a family. Our System of Care is family-driven. It’s tailored to meet individual needs and build on the strengths of the children and the families that we serve. We provide a full complement of services, including respite care and round-the-clock crisis services.
Children and youth might get down, but nothing like what an adult experiences as depression.
False: Children can, and do, experience emotions as intensely as grown-ups. Like adults, children and adolescents can have mental health disorders that interfere with the way they think, feel, and act. Children can experience depression, anxiety disorders, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia. When untreated, mental health disorders can lead to school failure, family conflicts, drug abuse, violence, and even suicide.
I can’t do anything for a person with mental health issues.
False: You can do a lot, starting with how you act and speak! Do your part to create an environment that builds on people’s strengths and promotes understanding. You can do this by learning the facts about mental health and sharing them with others, especially if you hear something that isn’t true. Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity, just as you would anybody else. Respect the rights of people with mental illnesses and don’t discriminate against them when it comes to housing, employment, or education. Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health problems are protected under federal and state laws.