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Mental Health Myths

There are many myths about mental health that can affect the way you think about the issue. It’s important to know what is a fact and what is made up – so that you can you can make the right decisions.

Mental Health Myths

How do I know what is a fact and what is a myth?

If you are unsure what is myth or fact, the best person to ask is a doctor or mental health professional.  They’ll always give you a straight answer! 

But to get you started, 15 of the more common myths are listed below.  Click on the myth you want to know more about to find out the facts.

People with a mental health problem should just harden up and get over it

The fact is: Although serving members and veterans with mental health problems can play a big part in their own recovery, they didn’t choose to become unwell. They’re not lazy and they can’t just “snap out of it”.

You wouldn’t say that someone with heart disease should just get over it; you’d expect them to see a doctor and get treatment.

The doctor would also give advice about things the person could do for themselves to help manage their condition – like cutting down on fatty foods. Mental health problems (and their treatment) are exactly the same.

PTSD is the most common mental health problem for veterans

The fact is: PTSD might get a lot of attention, but it’s only one of a whole range of mental health problems that affect serving members and veterans.

Alcohol and drug related problems, depression, and anxiety, are also common, and in many cases affect more veterans than PTSD does. For example, in Australia , alcohol problems are more than twice as common as PTSD in Vietnam veterans.

Suffering from more than one disorder at a time is also common; two thirds of serving members with a mood disorder also suffer from an anxiety or alcohol use disorder.

All these disorders, and other problems with things like anger or sleep can have a significant effect on serving members and veterans, their families and the wider community.

Everyone in the military will end up with a mental health problem

The fact is: In many cases, the rates of mental health conditions in the military are the same or even less than the rates in the general population.

Even the most common mental health problems only affect a minority of serving members and veterans.

For example, (in Australia) less than one in five Vietnam veterans will experience any particular disorder over their lifetime (the exception is problems with alcohol – affecting about two in five Vietnam veterans). And at any given time, only 8% of serving members, 5% of Gulf War veterans, and 11% of Vietnam veterans will be affected by PTSD.


Serving members and veterans only develop mental health problems because of their military experience

The fact is: Mental health problems don’t just develop because of one single event. There are a whole range of factors that increase a person’s risk of developing mental health problems, and for veterans, those factors can occur before, during, and after military service.

Even though veterans are exposed to a lot of unique experiences that can influence their mental health, they’re also affected by the same issues that affect civilians.

For example, as well as traumatic events experienced on deployment, in Australia about 9 out of 10 veterans will also experience at least one non-military traumatic event. And in many cases, mental health problems are no more common in veterans than they are in the general community, or in non-deployed serving personnel.

That suggests that non-military experiences are just as important in influencing mental health as other life experiences.

People with mental health problems are violent and dangerous

The fact is: People with a mental health problem are rarely dangerous, and are much more likely to harm themselves than someone else.

Some mental health problems actually make it much less likely that a person will be dangerous to others; for example, someone with depression is unlikely to have the energy or motivation for violence. Even among people with severe mental health disorders like schizophrenia, violence is rare.

Research has found that people with schizophrenia are about 2,000 times more likely to hurt themselves than to hurt someone else, and violence usually only occurs if the person is not receiving treatment or is abusing alcohol or other drugs.

People with mental health problems are crazy

The fact is: Having a mental health problem doesn’t mean that someone is “crazy”. It means they have a health condition that requires treatment.

No one would suggest that someone with the flu was crazy, and it’s no more accurate to describe mental health conditions in that way. Words like “crazy” belittle and offend people with mental health problems, and only serve to perpetuate myths like the ones on this page.

There is no connection between physical and mental health

The fact is: Physical and mental health are closely related, and each one can have an effect on the other.

Having a mental health problem can mean you stop taking care of yourself; you might not eat enough, not get enough sleep, stop exercising, or drink too much. All of these things will have an effect on your physical health.

On the other hand, sometimes a mental health problem can develop in response to a physical condition. For example, if you’re injured, you might get depressed about being stuck at home all day and losing your independence.

People with mental health problems are just making it up, and really they are just unreliable

The fact is: One of the defining features of any mental health problem is that it interferes with the person’s home, work, or social life, so it should be no surprise that many people with mental health problems have trouble coping with day to day living.

Just as the symptoms of a physical health problem may affect someone’s ability to do things, so may the symptoms of a mental health problem. And anyone with a health condition, whether it’s physical or mental, will have good days and bad days.

A veteran with chronic back pain, for example, will have some days where they feel ok and be able to get to the shops or catch up with friends, and some days where they struggle to get out of bed. Rather than getting fed up when the person cancels plans or doesn’t show up when they’re supposed to, try and remember how much more fed up they probably are with not being able live life the way they want to.

People with mental health problems never get better

The fact is: Effective treatments are available for mental health problems, including both psychological therapy and medication.

With the right kind of help, most serving members and veterans do recover and lead healthy, productive, and satisfying lives.

Some won’t experience any further episodes of a mental health problem, while others will have recurring symptoms and will learn to manage their condition, just as someone with a chronic physical health condition would.

‘Real men’ don’t talk about their problems or ask for help – counselling is for wimps

The fact is: Men and women of all ages and all walks of life seek effective help from a variety of mental health professionals, including counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists.

For example, you may have seen ex-All Black John Kirwan talk about his mental health issues and how he reached out for help.

Finding and accepting help are signs of coping and of preventing situations getting worse.

On deployment, you wouldn’t try and take care of everything yourself; it’s all about teamwork. Looking after your mental health works in the same way. You can’t always do it yourself, and getting it out in the open means you can get the right people for the job to lend a hand.

Alcohol works better than medication

The fact is: Drinking alcohol might help manage symptoms of anxiety or depression for a while, but in the long term it will only cause more harm.

Problematic alcohol use is one of the biggest mental health issues for veterans so it’s always important to be careful with your alcohol intake, especially if you’re suffering other mental health problems as well.

Alcohol can make problems with mood and sleep worse, and can cause serious problems with work, relationships, and physical health. And remember that alcohol and medications don’t mix – alcohol can interact in potentially dangerous ways with some of the medications prescribed for mental health problems.

People are born with mental health problems

The fact is: There are all sorts of factors that can increase the likelihood of developing a mental health problem.

A family history of mental health problems can mean you’re more likely than the average person to develop one of these conditions. But there are plenty of people who develop a mental health problem even when there’s no history of mental health problems in the family, and the reverse is also true; many people who have a family history of mental health problems won’t develop one themselves.

Some of the things that can increase the likelihood of developing a mental health problem include: stress, death of a loved one, a traumatic life event (like deployment, a car accident, or a natural disaster), a change in situation (such as a relationship breakdown or unemployment), abuse, isolation, and major physical illness or disability.

Mental health conditions are very rare and only affects certain people

The fact is: The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand report that just under 50% of Kiwis will experience mental illness or addiction at some point in their lives with one in five people affected within any one year.

People who have a mental health condition need to be kept away from society

The fact is: Most people with a mental health condition continue to live at home in their normal community, and recover well with regular appointments with a counsellor or other health professional, and the support of their family and friends.

Only a small number of people who suffer from a mental health condition need to be admitted to hospital for treatment, and usually they’re only there briefly while very severe symptoms are brought under control.


People with mental health problems have an intellectual disability

The fact is: Mental health conditions and intellectual disability are not the same thing. Mental health problems can develop at any point, and often come and go.

Intellectual disability is usually present from early in a person’s life, and is a lifelong condition.

Mental health problems can develop at any point, and often come and go, just like many physical conditions such as asthma or allergies. Mental health conditions can affect anyone, and people with an intellectual disability experience the same kinds of mental health problems as people without an intellectual disability.