Mental disorders are both bizarre and fascinating, and usually tend to be very misunderstood by the general public. This is a list of mental illnesses and a widely believed myth or two about each one:
The Myth: Somebody who avoids social interaction is “antisocial”.
This is mostly a semantic error. Many people refer to someone who is reluctant to participate in social situations as “antisocial”. But, in fact, these people are often pro-social.
Antisocial Personality Disorder is diagnosed in adults who consistently ignore the rights of others by behaving violently, lying, stealing, or generally acting recklessly with no concern for the safety of themselves or others. They are often extroverted and very much the opposite of the type of people who are so often called “antisocial”, who usually care very much about other people’s feelings. These people are usually just shy or have some form of autism, depression, social anxiety disorder, or avoidant personality disorder.
The Myth: All people with dyslexia are unable to read because they see letters in the wrong order.
This is actually two myths in one. The first is that dyslexic people can’t read. Actually, most do learn to read, but if they don’t get appropriate help, they often learn slowly and stay well below their grade level in speed and comprehension. However, if they are taught by someone who understands dyslexia, they can learn to read perfectly well. The other half of this myth is that dyslexics see words backwards or out of order. This can seem to be the case because, they mix up letters or sounds in their confusion, and some dyslexic people confuse left and right or have a lot of trouble spelling. However, Dyslexia is much more to do with a unique way of thinking than a problem with processing visual information.
The Myth: Schizophrenic people hear voices in their heads.
We all know about schizophrenia, and we’ve all read jokes about “the voices in my head”. But, contrary to what a lot of people believe, not all people with schizophrenia hear voices in their heads. Auditory hallucinations are very common in schizophrenic people, but they are more likely to hear voices coming from some object outside of their body than inside their mind. Plus, not everyone with schizophrenia experiences the same symptoms. They may have hallucinations, delusions, disordered thoughts, lack of affect (no appearance of emotions), or, in catatonic schizophrenia, even a lack of desire to move at all. Schizophrenia is a complicated disorder with a wide range of possible symptoms.
The Myth: Autism is a devastating disorder that will stop someone from ever being able to function in society.
Many people hear “autism” and imagine children who are permanently in their own world where they can’t talk or interact with anyone else, who throw tantrums for no apparent reason, and who will never be part of normal society. However, autism is called a spectrum disorder for a reason: autistics range from people who are unable to communicate in any way with others, all the way to people who live ordinary, productive lives and just seem a bit eccentric to the rest of us.
Autism is not a life sentence, either. There are stories of low-functioning autistic children improving with therapy and almost entirely recovering from any autism-related problems they had.
The Myth: People with ADHD are unable to pay attention to anything.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a disorder where people have trouble concentrating on tasks and can be hyperactive or impulsive. But it isn’t true, as it sometimes seems, that people with ADHD just can’t pay attention. Many of them can pay attention to something that they find genuinely interesting, the same way all of us are much more willing to be distracted from a dull task than an enjoyable one. And, in fact, some people have trouble focusing because they actually pay too much attention. They think about all the sights, sounds, and smells around them, not just the task at hand. They have to learn to deal with all the other interesting stimuli and keep most of their attention on what is important.
The Myth: People with OCD are always obsessed with The Danger of germs, and are very particular about neatness.
Most people seem to think that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are neat freaks and/or germophobes, not realizing that it’s a lot more complicated than that. OCD is an anxiety disorder with two characteristics. First, people with OCD have recurring unwanted thoughts (obsessions), usually of something they find disturbing or not at all in their character. It’s common to have an obsession about germs or contamination, or of not having properly locked their doors so burglars can’t get in, but it’s also common to have thoughts about something terrible happening to their families, about hurting or even killing someone, doing something forbidden in a religion they strongly believe in, or any other undesirable idea. Second, these people think that doing some certain ritual will get rid of the danger. It could be washing hands, keeping their house in perfect order, checking that the door is locked, thinking certain words, avoiding odd numbers, or just about anything imaginable. Doing this compulsion doesn’t make the thoughts go away for very long, so the ritual is repeated. Also, people with OCD are often very disturbed by their disorder.
The Myth: Mental Disorders and illnesses are all in your head, and you can just get over them if you really want to.
Some people still believe that mental illnesses are all imagined by their sufferers, or that people who suffer from mental illness can’t really be having that much trouble and/ or just don’t care enough about getting over it. The fact that the same symptoms have been experienced by so many different people should prove that they are real — they can’t all be independently inventing the same symptoms. Any mental disorder, by definition, seriously affects the lives of the people who suffer from it, usually for the worse, or it would not be considered a disorder. And they are certainly not easy to get over. Most mental disorders are caused at least in part by a difference in the brain or an imbalance of chemicals. The disorder itself may stop someone from trying to get help: people with depression might think no therapist will be able to help them, and be too tired to try to find one, anyway. If we could overcome mental illnesses just by wanting to, the world would be full of much happier and more productive people.