Psychologists Debunk 25 Mental-Health Myths

Psychologists Debunk 25 Mental-Health Myths

November 6, 2019 98 By William Morgan


Laura Goorin: So, the
myth that all neat freaks
have OCD is a common one.
Most people who are clean
just actually care about being clean,
and that’s totally
different than having OCD.
Also, there are no five stages of loss.
It’s just a myth.
Narrator: That’s Laura Goorin,
one of three psychologists
we brought into our studios
to debunk some of the most
common mental-health myths.
Goorin: So, the myth that
most people with schizophrenia
have multiple personalities,
that was a very old way
that it was understood,
and it’s been proven to not be true.
So, with schizophrenia, it’s
not another personality.
What it is, though, is
a break with reality
and a part of ourselves,
maybe, for instance,
that believes that someone
is out to get them.
OK, so that’s a really common
one with schizophrenia.
So the myth that all “neat
freaks” have OCD is a common one.
It seems like it’s almost
a popular cultural thing
that people say to each
other, “You have OCD,”
when somebody is, like,
organizing their bag.
And, in reality, OCD itself,
the illness has different components.
And one of the subsets
is the keeping things organized and clean.
But it has to be at an obsessive level,
where people are thinking
about it all the time.
And so that itself is really uncommon.
Most people who are clean
just actually care about being clean.
And that’s totally
different than having OCD.
Jillian Stile: Bipolar disorder
is not simply mood swings.
It’s a very high elevation
of maybe a positive mood
and a very low, negative mood.
Everybody has mood swings.
But with bipolar disorder,
it’s not just that.
It’s severe forms of elevated
mood or depressed mood,
and they cycle through that.
And so sometimes it could be shown
as symptoms of, like, a manic episode,
might be somebody, like,
hypersexuality or not sleeping at all
and things like that.
It’s not simply feeling good.
Goorin: This is a common myth,
and I hear people throw
this one around a lot too.
Anxiety itself is thinking,
thinking, thinking.
And just imagine yourself
going into the worry
thoughts of “what if.”
What if, what if this
happens, what if that happens.
And it’s unremitting,
and it goes on for hours for some people.
Sometimes it’s more passing for others.
But being stressed out about something,
as humans, we’re wired
to handle stressors,
and we’ve been dealing with
an onslaught of stressors
since the beginning of time.
You know, going to
work, taking the subway,
coming in contact with
other people. You know,
that can be stressful. That
can be stress-inducing.
Unless you have an
actual, like, panic attack
while you’re taking the subway,
that would be more of an anxiety reaction,
whereas the stress of taking the subway
is more stress-based.
Stile: You know, everybody
feels anxious, let’s say,
before a presentation or before an exam.
But an anxiety disorder is
the extreme form of that
where it becomes, you know,
it interferes with
somebody’s daily functioning.
Goorin: This is actually
a really important myth.
Sadness is an ephemeral
reaction to something.
It’s an emotion and, by
definition, lasts a few seconds.
It can last, like, 10
minutes, but on average,
we have an emotion, it passes,
and then we have another emotion.
The thing that tends to bring us
from sadness to depression is rumination,
which means thinking and
thinking and thinking
about the thing over
and over and over again.
And that’s how we then go
from sadness to depression,
but it’s not an immediate thing.
We all have moments of sadness,
and we just allow them and let them pass.
We tend to be OK.
But if we get caught up
in getting ruminating
and thinking about all
the reasons why we’re sad,
that’s when we tend to go into depression.
So, to the myth that depression
is not a real illness,
it is a real illness,
and, in fact, it can be
incredibly debilitating.
In order to classify as having depression,
we have to have some kind of
a lethargic kind of behavior
where we have trouble getting out of bed.
I mean, there are different
ways of depression,
but one of the primary ones has this,
what they’re called
neurovegetative symptoms,
like, where we can’t
sleep, where we can’t eat.
There’s also a kind of
depression which is dysthymia,
which has an anhedonia component into it,
which means less pleasure in
things that we used to enjoy,
which is another kind of depression.
And a lot of people will describe, like,
“Oh, I used to love pottery,
and now I can’t even look at pots.”
You know? Like, something
just totally changes for them
when they’re deeply in
this state of depression.
Neil Altman: Talking about painful things
that you’ve learned how to sort cover over
can initially be more painful
but in the interest of working out things
that if not dealt with straightforwardly
are gonna come back to bite them.
I’ll say another thing about that
is that sometimes patients wonder,
“What’s the therapist gonna
feel if I say thus and so?”
Like, “Can the therapist handle
the level of despair
that I sometimes feel?”
And on those occasions,
when the patient has the
strength to put it out there
and see how the therapist responds,
the fact that the therapist can handle it
is a big step toward
the patient then being able to handle it.
There are reasons, and
they may change over time.
But I think the thing that
I would want to debunk
in that respect
is the idea that there’s a single reason.
So that if you handle that,
then you’re gonna be freed of that.
And there’s not.
In most cases, there’s not.
You’ve got to discover the
reasons, in the plural,
that you’re depressed and what
you can do something about.
And what you can’t.
Stile: The myth that
only women get depressed
couldn’t be further from the truth.
However, women are twice as
likely to experience depression.
So, the reason why oftentimes people think
women have a higher rate
of depression than men
is because of maybe hormonal changes,
life circumstances, and stress.
The other thing that I like to think about
is that women might express their feelings
in a different way than men do.
So, sometimes men might, you
know, act out behaviorally,
whereas women might focus on
their internal experience.
And so they might be more likely
to see a therapist if that’s the case.
Goorin: When people
have gone down the road
of eventually deciding
to go on medications
for antidepressants,
they don’t change your personality;
they change the symptoms of depression.
They can also work for anxiety.
So, typically, if you have
just typical symptoms of
depression and anxiety,
we’ll be given an antidepressant
is what it’s called, an SSRI.
And that will help us
regulate the symptoms
of our, just, up and down of moods.
And the way I describe it to people is
it’s like going back to your baseline you
when it’s the right medication.
But it doesn’t change your personality.
Your personality, you’re you.
So, in terms of the myth
that we’ll always be cured
from depression by antidepressants,
the research shows that the
most effective thing right now
for depression is actually therapy.
And then for people who
need antidepressants,
therapy and antidepressants together
are another effective form.
And not everybody has to take it.
So even with people who
are taking antidepressants,
it’s important to still be in therapy.
Altman: The myth that bad
parenting causes mental illness
I think is a trap.
Because parents are all too ready
to take responsibility and to feel guilty
about all sorts of problems
that their children have.
So there’s no point in reinforcing that
and harming and damaging the
mental health of parents.
If you think that your parents
caused your mental illness,
you’re gonna end up endlessly
complaining about your parent.
What can you do about
the way you were raised?
You can do something about
what it’s left you with
in the present.
Goorin: Around LGBT adults and youth,
there’s so many myths
associated with mental health.
And a big part of it I think is,
unfortunately, because
the profession that I’m in
had a really dirty history
along these lines in the DSM,
which is our Diagnostic
Statistic Manual, until 1973,
homosexuality was actually
listed as a disorder.
And after a lot of pushback and studies
and LGBTQ rights being
integrated into theory,
we realized that that was really outdated.
And since then, in
DSM-3, it stopped being,
unless somebody has specific
anxiety related to being gay,
then they’re not diagnosed ever
with a mental-health-related
disorder associated with it.
The same is true for
being trans, actually.
That it’s only if somebody
has what’s called dysphoria,
where they don’t like their body,
that they then have a diagnosis.
But just being trans in and of itself
isn’t a disorder anymore.
You know, to the question about what role
mental health plays in the
attacks of gun violence,
unfortunately, that’s
been a mischaracterization
of people who have severe mental illness,
is that they’re more likely to
commit crimes and with guns.
It’s not that people with mental illness
are more likely to be aggressive.
It’s the people who commit these
crimes have access to guns,
and they tend to be really self-loathing.
Like, that’s kind of the primary thing
that makes people have a lack of empathy.
That seems to be the things
that make them be more
violent and aggressive.
Those are better predictors
than any type of a mental health disorder.
People talk about a whole
town, like, on the news,
“A whole town was
traumatized by the shooting,”
for instance. Right?
And it doesn’t work that
way, and that’s actually
one of the most common
mental-health disorders
that I’ve seen mischaracterized
in that particular way, is PTSD.
People seem to think that by
virtue of having the experience
to a potentially traumatic event,
that you’ll have these
particular realm of symptoms
that include hypervigilance,
there’s impulsivity.
There’s so many different realms
of what comes up for people after trauma,
and I’ve heard people say, you know,
“Because I was traumatized,
because I was there at
9/11,” for instance.
Well, a whole city was there,
and we have really good numbers
about the number of people
who ended up having PTSD,
and they’re actually really small.
When something like this happens,
a major tragedy like a
gun shooting or a 9/11
or any other type of tragedy like that,
people tend to be resilient.
There’s a big myth, actually,
even within the mental-health field
saying that there are prototypical ways
to respond to grief and loss.
And that’s in pop culture as well,
that people have these ideas
that there’s one way to grieve
and if we’re not devastated
and deeply traumatized
that somehow we’re in denial or unfeeling.
And that’s not true.
In fact, since the beginning of time,
we’ve been dealing with death.
We have different ways of dealing with it.
And sometimes we’re relieved
that the person dies
because we didn’t have a very
good relationship with them.
Or even if the person, if we love them
and we feel really connected
to them but they were sick,
we’re relieved that they’re dead
because we don’t want
them to suffer anymore.
People tend to feel really guilty
about being relieved after a death,
which is a very common reaction to death.
There are no five stages
of loss; it’s just a myth.
And it’s one of the most
popular myths out there.
And it’s one of those things
where people who aren’t
very psychologically minded
will come in and say,
“Oh, my gosh, I must be in
the denial phase of loss,”
or, “I must be in this phase
because I’m not dealing with it yet.”
In reality, I just think
it’s one of those things
that makes us feel safe.
Like, if we can imagine
these stages are ahead of us,
then we can feel better
about where we are,
and so I think that’s why it’s so popular.
However, I’ve seen the flip side,
which is why it can be damaging,
when people have losses and
they’re judging themselves
for not having this
prototypical series of stages,
and they’re not based on
reality or evidence or anything.
OK, so, people are gonna
hate me for saying this, but,
and this is so common in the dating world.
Like, if you ever look
on people’s profiles
on dating profiles, they always
say, like, “I am an NYFB,”
or, I don’t even know what they say.
But it’s always about how they’re
these certain, you know,
Myers-Briggs score.
And it’s really popular
these days, Myers-Briggs.
And, in fact, a lot of
organizations use it
and really base a lot
of their testing on it.
Again, there’s no validation
around any of these studies.
And so while it might resonate for people,
and that is something that, you know,
just like when we talk about, you know,
“I’m a Gemini because I do this,”
you know, it resonates for you,
the idea of being a Gemini,
and you might act in ways that remind you
of this description of
what it is to be a Gemini,
but there are no empirical tests
to say that you are such this thing.
There are personality tests,
but Myers-Briggs isn’t one of them.
Altman: The myth that therapy
is gonna be exclusively about the past
or predominantly about the past
and not help you in your current life
or not give you a form
for talking about what’s
happening today and yesterday,
there’s a reason why people
hold on to that myth.
And the reason is
that there was an early
version of psychoanalysis
that held to the idea that
people’s personalities
were formed in their first five years
and that the past was strongly
formative of the present.
It sometimes can be helpful to say
that there was a pattern
that was established
in relation to people in the past.
And that can give you some perspective
on what’s happening in the present.
So making reference to the past
is not necessarily a bad thing,
but it should never be
because this happened,
therefore you’re having this problem now.
It’s not an explanation.
It’s only a way of getting
perspective on the present.
Stile: I think oftentimes
people might say,
“Oh, why not go speak with a
friend who’s a good friend,
and they can keep things confidential?”
But therapists are trained
to work in a particular way
to help people deal with
specific problems they’re facing.
Therapists are different than friends
because even though your
friends might be willing to,
for example, hold a secret,
therapists really treat things
in a very confidential manner.
And they’re willing to explore things
that maybe a friend would
be uncomfortable exploring.
Altman: Actually, the
fact is that most people
who come to therapy are
among the stronger people.
And the reason is because
they have the courage
and the strength to look at themselves,
which is not an easy thing
to do in various ways.
I think it’s because the
people who come to me
are people who’ve already
decided to work on themselves.
Good therapists don’t force their patients
to talk about something they
don’t want to talk about.
To the contrary,
I think that even encouraging a person
to talk about something
that they’re not ready to talk
about is counterproductive.
The problem with hitting
pain points right on the head
is privacy, for one thing.
People are entitled to their privacy.
Therapy isn’t just an
opportunity to spill.
So I think having people’s privacy,
when their privacy is respected,
that makes them more confident
to open up, actually.
But the other problem for that
is that the therapist needs to be thinking
that there’s a limit to
the tolerance of everybody,
including the therapist,
for how much pain they can
tolerate at any given time.
And so respect for people’s
anxiety about getting into
some of the more difficult
things in their lives
is also part of the process.
Goorin: Psychiatrists are the only ones
who are able in this country
to prescribe medication.
They do what’s called a
psychopharmacological consult,
where they will go through
all of your history.
And that’s something
they do if you want that.
And I say if you want that
because it’s really important.
As a psychologist, for instance,
we always try therapy first.
It’s the treatment of
preference for all clinicians.
In fact, they’ve done all these
studies that have shown that
therapy first for several months
before you then even
think about a medication
is the best course of
treatment for people.
Because that way you can
really see what is what.
And if you then still
want to do medications,
it’s certainly something
you can talk about.
But you don’t have to do medications.
It’s up to you and your therapist
if it feels like that
would be beneficial to you.
Altman: I would not say
that most therapists
consider that therapy
has to go on forever.
But I think when you’re
interviewing somebody
and considering them to be your therapist,
that’s one thing to ask about.
How do you think about how
long this should go on,
and when do you start to think
that maybe it’s time to end it?
How do you break up with your therapist?
Do not break up with your therapist
in an email or a text or a phone message.
You’ve got to be direct.
You’ve got to say,
“I’ve been thinking that maybe
it’s time for us to stop.”
But then that can’t be the end of it.
If you haven’t already said it,
hopefully you have already
said it in one way or another
in the preceding sessions.
“What I’ve been looking for is this,
and I see how it’s been
happening in my life.”
And maybe give an example or two.
But it’s not like you feel
you have to convince the therapist.
I want to be sure to let people know
that there are lots of ways
of getting good psychotherapy
at a reduced fee.
So, there are institutes
where people get advanced
training beyond their doctorate.
And all those institutes
have training clinics
where people are treated at a low fee.
And some people might think
that the higher the fee,
the more skilled the practitioner,
which is not necessarily the case.
But certainly in that case it’s not true.