What the average person believes about mental illness is heavily influenced by pop culture, particularly Hollywood screenwriters. According to the conventional portrayal of fictional characters with psychological disorders, the character's mind is either full of homicidal thoughts or their disorders are merely eccentric and even humorous. Mental illness crime statistics indicate that somebody with a psychiatric condition is actually less likely to be violent than the population at large, and yet we are fed this idea that they are all dangerous lunatics.
It is time to dispel misconceptions of mental illness in society. Here is a look at five lies that we are told about fictional characters with mental illness along with some mental health myths and facts.
Padded Cells and Straitjackets Are the Norm
Do they use straight-jackets in mental hospitals today? If you believe Hollywood, the answer is obviously "yes." But the truth is, straight-jackets have gone the way of the dodo bird. They are a cruel and pose a threat to the physical well-being of a patient. While mental health workers are trained in the use of short-term physical restraints when necessary, the process is heavily regulated and requires a great deal of paperwork. If a patient has been committed to a hospital, they will not spend even a second in a straight-jacket.
Regarding padded cells at mental health facilities, they are a rarity, usually limited to situations in which a mentally ill patient presents an immediate danger to themselves. In most cases, there is very little difference between a bedroom at a modern psychiatric hospital and those at a college dormitory, except that the furniture in the hospital room is usually secured to the walls and floor, and the hooks and door handles are absent in order to maintain a safe atmosphere.
If you visit a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit, where patients with the most immediate and serious conditions are treated, you will find a low stimulation room, as well as soft furniture, but even then you won't find any pads on the walls.
Schizophrenia Is Not Split Personality
According to a recent survey by the UK-based Time to Change mental health campaign, approximately 70% of the British consider schizophrenia to be characterized by split personality. This is a bit of a shock, but not really. While the word schizophrenia really does mean "split mind," its origins were based on ill-informed 19th-century thinking. Today schizophrenia is recognized as a psychotic disorder in which the patient is unable to distinguish between reality and the fiction they create in their minds. Split personality is actually an entirely different disorder known clinically as multiple personality disorder. Even then, Hollywood has false ideas about what this entails.
The typical fictional characters with mental disorders such as multiple personality disorder are portrayed as having two or more distinct personalities all with that individual's body, with limited or even completely lacking conscious awareness about these other "selves." We can probably thank Brad Pitt and his portrayal in Fight Club for this. In reality, it is much more complicated. Patients may be said to be suffering from a severe form of dissociative state in which an individual unconsciously separates parts of themselves as they deviate from reality. Even then, this condition is extremely rare and not at all like the Hollywood version. A patient might, say, regress into childhood during a therapy session, but there are precisely zero mental illness crime cases in which the subconscious part of them takes over the body and acts like a psychopathic killer while the "innocent" side of the personality remains oblivious.
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Psychiatrists, Psychotherapists and Psychologists Are Different
Let us make a distinction between different mental health professions. A psychiatrist is an actual medical doctor who diagnoses mental health problems, is able to write out prescriptions, and has some training in providing talk therapy (i.e., psychotherapy, CBT). They have a strong background in biology and neurochemistry.
A psychotherapist can be a medical doctor, but it is not a requirement. They are trained to deliver a specific type of talk therapy, often in the form of psychoanalysis. While a clinical psychologist is very effective at what they do, they are not medical doctors. As a result, in most states they are not able to prescribe medications. Their expertise lies in offering practical advice for coping with psychological conditions, but they are not typically trained in psychotherapy.
OCD Is Not about Being a Neat Freak
Here are some interesting facts about mental illness, according to Hollywood. Obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD writing links the condition to being obsessively tidy. Of course, this is completely false.
In reality, OCD involves constantly dwelling on irrationally intrusive, horrifying and thoroughly distressing thoughts (the obsessive component) and feeling the need to take part in rituals in order to counteract this (the compulsive element). While somebody who has a fear of uncleanliness could very well be suffering from OCD, it is generally linked to an irrational intrusive thought like, "If I don't wash the floor 6 times, my wife will contract a deadly germ" and not "I just love when my floor sparkles at all times." In most cases, OCD is not even connected to cleaning things. It could be able the need to zip and unzip your jacket 20 times or turn the door knob a defined number of times before you leave even when you know it is securely locked.
Mental Illness Cannot Be Cured by a Rousing Speech or Love
In Hollywood, the key to curing depression or even an addiction is through an inspirational speech or finding a partner who can relate perfectly to your struggles. Somehow falling in love or being told to believe in yourself is better than any therapy or medication. Of course, this is pure nonsense. Consider the case of Charles Xavier in X-Men: Days of Future Past. At one point he is a full-blown substance abuser until one major event changes everything. He returns to being his normal self without nary an explanation for how he managed to get over his addiction.
Such portrayals imply that addictions can be overcome without any effort and even seems to suggest that true addicts are lazy or have major character flaws rather than recognizing that an addiction is a genuine illness, often with tragic results.