THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
June 7, 1999
MYTH #1: Mental illness is not a disease and cannot be treated.
FACT: Research in the last decade proves that mental illnesses are diagnosable disorders of the brain. New brain imaging technologies visually illustrate the differences in the brains of healthy people and people with serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. They show reductions in the overall volume of the brain and distinct differences in the way in which the brain processes information. There are also now effective treatments for mental illness that, for example, relieve symptoms for 80 percent of people with major depression; control symptoms such as hallucination or delusions for 70 percent of people with schizophrenia; and alleviate symptoms for 50 to 60 percent of people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
MYTH #2: Mental illness doesn't happen to people like me or my family.
FACT: Mental illness affects most extended American families. One in five Americans suffer from mental illness at some point in their life. These illnesses strike all kinds of families, regardless of race, socioeconomic class, educational level or place of residence. Schizophrenia occurs at equal rates regardless of education, socioeconomic status, or culture. Depression, panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorders are also equal opportunity illnesses. Women suffer from depression at twice the rate of men regardless of where they live, their culture, or socioeconomic status. Five million older Americans suffer from depression, and one in ten children and adolescents suffer from some type of mental illness. Mental illness can happen to anyone.
MYTH #3: Depression is a part of life that can be worked through
without seeking help.
FACT: Depression is a diagnosable, treatable illness that affects 19 million adult Americans each year. It is a disorder of the brain that is characterized by serious and persistent symptoms such as changes in sleep, appetite, and energy; cognitive losses such as slowed thinking; and clearly discernible feelings like irritability, hopelessness, and guilt. The severity and duration of depression symptoms are clearly distinguishable from sadness and mood swings that are part of life. When untreated, depression can have serious consequences. Depression is the cause of over two-thirds of the 30,000 American suicides each year, and according to the World Health Organization, it is the leading cause of disability in the United States. However, there are effective treatments available that have proven to have 80 percent success rate for people diagnosed with depression.
MYTH #4: Teenagers don't suffer from "real" mental illness; they are
FACT: We now know that teenagers and even younger children, can and do suffer from mental illness. One in ten children and adolescents suffer from mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment, but fewer than 20 percent of these children receive treatment. Without treatment, schoolwork may suffer, normal family and peer relationships may be disrupted, and violent acts may occur. In fact, depression may lead to suicide, which is the third leading cause of death among young adults. However, recent studies indicate that 60 percent of depressed teenagers will improve with modern treatments.
MYTH #5: Depression is a part of aging.
FACT: Research shows that depression is not a normal part of aging, but that it is relatively prevalent among older people and can have serious adverse consequences. Nearly 5 million of the 32 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from clinical depression. While only 13 percent of the U.S. population, individuals ages 65 and older account for 20 percent of all suicide deaths, with white males being most vulnerable. And older persons with other serious health problems (strokes, hip fractures, heart conditions) depression may delay recovery, cause refusal of treatment, and lead to excessive disability and even death. However, effective mental health treatment is available for older Americans suffering from mental illness.
MYTH #6: Talk about suicide is an idle threat that need not be taken
FACT: People who admit to having thoughts and plans about suicide and people who have attempted suicide are at increased risk for completing suicide in the future. In a study of nearly 4,000 adults seeking psychiatric treatment, persons with a history of severe suicidal thoughts were 14 times more likely than other individuals to later commit suicide within four years. Research has shown that 90 percent of all suicide victims have had a mental or substance abuse disorder.
MYTH #7: We cannot afford to treat mental disorders.
FACT: We cannot afford NOT to treat mental illness. Researchers estimate that mental illnesses, including indirect costs such as days lost from work, cost America tens of billions of dollars each year. At the same time, businesses and states that have implemented new strategies to treat these disorders have not found notable increases in costs. For example, one business, Bank One, spearheaded a comprehensive effort to improve the company's ability to identify and get appropriate treatment for employees with depression in a timely manner. Between 1991 and 1995, the direct treatment costs for depressive disorders decreased by 60 percent. Moreover, Ohio implemented full mental health parity for its state employees and did not find that this action increased costs at all.
MYTH #8: People with severe and persistent mental illnesses cannot be
productive members of society.
FACT: People with psychiatric disabilities face many barriers, but appropriate support services can help them to succeed. A 1995 study of the Employment Intervention Demonstration Program run by the Center for Mental Health Services assessed the effectiveness of employment strategies to assist individuals with severe mental illness get and keep employment. It found that 55 percent of individuals receiving such employment support services were working after two years. Clearly, people with severe and persistent mental illnesses want to be employed and productive, and given appropriate treatment and support, they can be.
MYTH #9: Homeless people suffering from mental illness have little
chance of recovery.
FACT: There are effective treatments for homeless people with mental illness. While one-third of homeless Americans suffer from an untreated mental illness, research demonstrates a decrease in homelessness when outreach to these individuals is coupled with case management that provides them with appropriate medical treatment and connects them to housing and other supportive services. One study reported a 45 percent reduction in the number of days of homelessness after three months of this type of treatment. Over a year, clients had a 70 percent increase in the number of days worked, demonstrating that homeless persons with mental illnesses can make substantial improvements in the overall quality of their lives.
MYTH #10: There is no hope for people with mental illness.
FACT: These illnesses, which will affect one in five Americans, can be extremely debilitating. However, research proves that mental illnesses are diagnosable and treatable disorders of the brain. Eighty percent of people treated for severe depression and 70 percent or people treated for schizophrenia show positive responses to treatment -- far higher rates than for many physical illnesses. The challenge is to ensure that Americans with mental illness recognize these disorders and get the help that they need. ###