1. 1 People with mental illness (PMI) are dangerous.
• Many members of the public have this notion that people with mental illness are dangerous. People with mental illness are not dangerous when they are properly treated and when their illnesses are properly controlled. Only those who refuse to admit that they have mental illness are potentially dangerous and they must be brought to the attention of the mental health professionals as soon as possible.
- People with mental illness (PMI) are possessed by evil spirits.
• It has been shown that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalance and has nothing to do with possession by evil spirits. Even assuming there are cultural and religious explanations to the causation of mental illness, one must always include the medical explanation so that medical attention can be given at the same time as religious rites.
- People with mental illness (PMI) are pretending to be ill.
• This is not true. Many mental illnesses are due to chemical imbalance and are genetically linked. They are beyond the control of the sufferers. Hence, there is no way a person will pretend to be mentally ill unless he or she is malingering for personal gain. Such “patients” should be exposed so that they can be taken to task for their malingering.
- Mental illness is self-inflicted.
• Why should a person with mental illness induce illness onto himself or herself unless it is for personal gain or to get the attention of others? Most of the people with mental illness are genuinely unwell and need our utmost care and concern.
- People with mental illness (PMI) are weak in character.
• People with mental illness are suffering from an illness. It has got nothing to do with weakness of character. Yes, the mental illness may make the sufferers lazy and unmotivated but once proper treatment is provided, they will be back to effective functioning.
- Mental illness cannot be cured.
• Mental illness if detected early can be cured. Those people with mental illness who are detected late or inadequately treated may end up with a chronic illness which requires long-term maintenance to prevent relapse. Such chronic mental illness may not totally be cured but they can adequately be controlled to prevent it from worsening. Hence, the importance of early diagnosis and prompt treatment to effect a cure.
Consequence of holding such myths:
One of the consequences of holding such myths is that there is a delay in bringing the person with mental illness for early diagnosis and treatment. In Singapore, it is said that as high as 50% of people with mental illness do not seek medical help but instead resort to traditional or religious healers because many still believe in “possessions by evil spirits.”
Removing the above 6 myths require the cooperation of the policy makers who must give emphasis to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in the country; the mental health professionals who must do a lot of psycho-education to explain to the patients and their relatives the nature of mental illness; the caregivers who must bring the person with mental illness for early treatment and also continue to support him or her consistently throughout the journey and finally the patients themselves who must be keen to learn about their illness and be motivated to stay in treatment.
By Dr Ang Yong Guan
24 July 2011