Understanding Mental Illness

Common Myths and Facts

Mental illness is inherited

Current research indicates some evidence that there may be some form of genetically inherited mental illnesses. Research is advancing rapidly on this issue, but there is clear evidence also that more than simple genetic influence is involved. For instance, there are cases of identical twins in which one developed schizophrenia.


There may be several casual factors that combine to produce serious mental illness. It is suspected that the disorder themselves aren’t inherited, but a predisposition to develop these brain disorders.


Mental illness is a form of mental retardation

Many people living with mental illnesses were notably intelligent before onset and many retain clear evidence of intelligence while also exhibiting confusion in thinking and responding.


Poor parenting causes mental illness

Evidence continues to build that refutes this once popular theory. In fact, parenting persons with mental illness is a very difficult and demanding of time, attention, understanding, and love.

Mental illness results from a poor attitude or personality

Mental illnesses are no-fault brain diseases – not “emotional disturbances” and not willful, petulant behavior. However, distorted thinking and perceptions and severe mood changes that are a part of these illnesses do affect attitudes and personalities.


Stress causes mental illness

This is partially true. Stress can be a trigger for an episode of acute symptoms, but the root causes according to current research studies appear to be biological in nature.


Mental illness can’t happen in my family

Over 7% of the population will develop one of serious mental illness during our lifetime. The lives of the families are affected also. More than one in ten families are directly affected by long- term serious mental illness.

Key Facts About Mental Illness

Extracted from a report prepared by the National Institute of Mental Health Advisory Council on the cost and treatment of severe mental illness


Extent and severity of the problem


  • Mental disorders are as definable as are “physical” disorders.

    • Using well-established, formal diagnostic criteria for major mental disorders (DSM-V), mental health clinicians agree on a given diagnosis approximately 80 percent of the time.

    • This figure compares favorably with expert “inter-rater” agreement on clinical diagnoses in other areas of medicine.

  • The full spectrum of mental disorders affects 22 percent of the adult population in a given year. This figure refers to all mental disorders, and is comparable to rates for “physical disorders” when similarly, broadly defined; e.g. respiratory disorders affect 50 percent of adults, and cardiovascular diseases 20 percent.

  • Of greater relevance to health care planning are the following data:

    • Less than 7 percent of the population have symptoms for a full year or longer.

    • Only 9 percent report some disability associated with the mental disorder

    • In a given year, 10.9 percent of the population seek some mental health treatment, half of them meet criteria for a mental disorder.

  • Where people seek and obtain care for mental disorders:

    • 43 percent: General health care sector

    • 40 percent: Mental health specialty care sector

    • 28 percent: Voluntary health sector

  • Severe mental disorders- i.e., schizophrenia, manic depressive illness and severe forms of depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder:

    • Affect 2.8 percent of the adult population-approximately five million people.

    • Account for 25 percent of all Federal disability payments (SSI and SSDI).


Treatment Efficacy


How effective are treatments for the severe mental disorders as compared to other treatments in medicine?





Major Depression



Treatment Success






 - Cardiovascular Treatments - 




Treatment Success



  • A high proportion of treatments for severe mental disorders (including all of the above) have been proven efficacious through controlled clinical studies.

    • In many areas of general medicine and (especially) surgery, there is less controlled data regarding efficacy.


  • Selected examples of treatment efficacy and cost considerations


Manic depressive illness

  • Without modern treatments, patients typically spent one-fourth of their adult life in the hospital and fully one-half of their life disabled.

  • Effective preventative medications (lithium, and anticonvulsants for lithium-resistant patients), often used in combination with supportive psychotherapy, allow 75- to 80 percent of manic depressive patients to lead essentially normal lives.

  • Lithium has saved the U.S. economy more than $40 billion dollars since 1970: $13 billion in direct treatment coasts, and $27 billion in indirect costs.


Major depressive disorder

  • Treated successfully by anti-depressant medications in 65 percent of cases;

  • “Success” rate of treatment increases to 85 percent when alternative or adjunctive medications are used, or psychotherapy is combined with medications.

  • Psychotherapy alone helps some depressed patients, especially those with mild to moderate symptoms.

  • Major depression accounts for more bed days-people out of work and in bed-than any other “physical” disorder save for cardiovascular disorders; costlier to the economy than chronic respiratory illness, diabetes, arthritis, or hypertension.

  • Major depression is among the most common of all clinical problems encountered by primary care physicians.


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

  • GAD is formally known as Panic Disorder

    • Effective treatment options, including classic ant-depressants and high-potency ant- anxiety agents, and refinements in behavioral therapies, make possible treatment response rates of 70- to 90- percent.

    • Somatic symptoms of GAD are often a confusing diagnosis, leading to unnecessary expenditures of health care resources; e.g., unnecessary angiograms performed because of GAD symptoms of racing heartbeat, difficulty in breathing, chest pains, and dizziness, waste more than $32 million each year.


Cost of mental disorders

  • In 1990, the Nation’s health care bill was $670 billion; direct cost of treating all mental disorders was 10 percent, or $67 billion.

  • $148 billion: total costs (treatment plus indirect costs) of mental disorders in 1990

  • $159 billion: total costs of all cardiovascular system diseases in 1990.

  • Severe mental disorders: Total direct treatment costs are $20 billion/year, plus $7 billion for long-term nursing home care.

  • Indirect and related costs bring the total for severe mental disorders to $74 billion/year.



  • Under insurance plans offering full, comprehensive, and equitable coverage for mental disorders, the percent of coast represented by these disorders plateaus at about ten to eleven percent.

  • Inpatient care for treatment of severe psychiatric disorders has grown less rapidly than inpatient care for all health conditions.

  • Under health care reform, making mental health coverage for the severely mentally ill commensurate to other health care coverage would:

    • Add only $6.5 billion in new mental health care costs; 10 percent more than is currently spent;

    • Produce a 10 percent decrease in the cost and use of general medical services by people with severe mental disorders;

    • Yield a $2.2 billion net savings for the Nation.

  • Comparable data for the broadest definition of mental disorder are now being analyzed.

A Guilt-Free Bill of Rights:

For Relatives & Friends of Persons Living with Mental Illness


A right to survive

A right to privacy and to lead our own lives

A right to not go broke or alter reasonable standards of living

A right not to be psychologically abused

A right not to be physically abused

A right to be caring, attentive parents to our other children

A right to express our own thoughts and emotions

A right to respite and vacations

A right to receive help for ourselves

A right to set house rules and be treated with consideration


Tips to taking care of yourself


  • Be gentle with yourself

  • Remind yourself that you are a supporter, not a magician. None of us can change anyone else, we can only change the way we relate to others

  • Find a place where you can be a hermit, to be still and in solitude. Use it every day, or when you need it

  • Learn to appropriately give support, praise and encouragement to those about you and learn to accept them in return

  • Remember that in the light of all the pain we see around us, we are bound to feel inadequate and helpless at times. We need to accept these feelings without shame for just in caring and “being there” we are doing something very important

  • Learn to vary your routine often and change tasks whenever possible

  • At the end of the day, focus on one good thing that has happened that day

  • Become a self-resource!  Become creative and open to new approaches to old things

  • Use the support advice you give to others or a “buddy system” regularly. Use these to reassure and/or redirect yourself

  • Learn to use the expression “I choose to….” rather than expressions such as “I have to…”, “I must…”, “I should...”, or “I ought to”

  • Learn to say “I won’t...” rather than “I can’t”

  • If you can’t say “no”, what is your “yes” worth?

  • Indifference is far more harmful than admitting to an inability to do more

Fitness Tips: Stay Healthy, Manage Stress


For the biggest benefits of exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.


  • 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.

  • Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It's better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggests that frequency is most important.

  • Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.

  • Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.

  • Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It's often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.

  • Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.

Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress


When you're feeling anxious or stressed, these strategies will help you cope:


  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.

  • Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.

  • Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. Check out the fitness tips below.

  • Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.

  • Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.

  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn't possible, be proud of however close you get.

  • Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?

  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.

  • Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.

  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.

  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.

  • Get help online. Lantern [1]offers online programs guided by professional coaches to help you turn healthy anxiety management into a habit. 

This information has been provided by: 

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