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Mental Health Misconceptions (Myths About Mental Health)

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What is Mental Health?

Mental health describes a person’s psychological, social, and emotional well-being. Mental health and physical health are intertwined and make up a person’s entire health and well-being.

Mental health issues can cause somatic symptoms (body based), just as physical health issues can influence mental health issues (Ohrnberger, Fichera, Sutton, 2017). 

Decades of increased mental health awareness and better access to therapy have reduced the myths or misconceptions around mental health issues and psychotherapy within our culture (U.S.). 

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Benefits of this shift have included decreasing negative bias towards therapy and therapy seekers; although stigma towards mental health still remains an issue (Pescosolido, Halpern-Manners, Luo, Perry, 2021)

Many myths about mental health, mental illness, and therapy have already been busted yet some persist. As humans and society change over time there will assuredly be new myths about mental health issues that pop up.

Throughout this post I use the terms “mental health issues,” “mental health concerns,” and “mental illness” rather interchangeably.

colored yarn laid in the shape of a human head; and other colored pieces of yarn spewing out of the head shape

Here are 11 Misconceptions about Mental Health  

1. “It’s All in Your Head”

Mental health does typically focus on the brain, thoughts, and feelings.

Though when someone uses the phrase “it’s all in your head,” they usually mean there is no issue and the recipient of this remark simply needs to move on.

Brain scans show a difference between brains with mental illness compared to brains without mental illness.

Mental health issues can be dismissed because they are invisible. 

Anxiety, depression, ADHD, sleep issues, OCD, and trauma may be referred to as invisible disabilities.

woman holding a leaf covering her face with eye holes cut out

Just because others cannot see how depression or ADHD are disabling does not mean they are any less disabling or debilitating.

2. “You Aren’t Trying Hard Enough to Get Better”

The convenient issue with this misconception is how straight up dismissive it is! 

Given the invisible nature of mental health issues, alleviating mental health symptoms is a process that is best evaluated between an individual and their therapist. 

figure behind glass, obscured through white light and dark shadow

While some people may be able to decrease mental health symptoms through behavior changes, that doesn’t mean anyone can judge a person’s attempts at managing mental illness.

It's hurtful when someone shares their mental health struggle with another individual, and that individual responds so crudely.

3. “People Who Commit Gun Violence Must be Mentally Ill”

woman wearing a mask holding up a sign reading, "How many more lives will it take?" and the sign has what appear to be bullet holes

Research has highlighted no connection between people with mental illness & perpetrators of gun violence or mass shootings.

The most common motivations behind mass shooters are fame-seeking; not mental illness.

4. “Medication By Itself Can Fix Mental Health Issues”

For most people, medication by itself is not an effective long-term approach to treat mental health issues.

Medication may be useful alone for some people, though it is most effective when partnered with a mental health professional such as a psychologist, therapist, or counselor to provide psychotherapy (Kamenov, Twomey, Cabello, Prina, & Ayuso-Mateos, 2017)

5. “It’s Impossible to Prevent Mental Health Issues”


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It is possible to prevent many different types of mental illness (Singh, Kumar, & Gupta, 2022). 

PTSD is preventable when people are exposed to less traumatic events. Other mental health issues such as suicide, depression, substance misuse, and postpartum depression can be prevented.

For people who already experience mental health issues, it is not too late!

An element of psychotherapy is focused on clients learning about their own mental health symptoms; and developing the skills and insight to manage mental health symptoms without a therapist in the future.

Public health campaigns and programs aim to help promote mental health awareness and education, and early intervention supports are some of the ways mental health issues can be prevented.

A relevant example of early intervention/ prevention work in Alaska is the proposed Alaska Legislature SB24, which would require schools to teach students about mental health as they do physical health.

Additional information from the ADN: this bill was passed in the Senate.

6. “Nobody Had ADHD or Autism Back in My Day”

Well … they probably did.

Misconceptions About mental health lines in white sand

While there has been an increase of ADHD and Autism diagnoses in the U.S., the increase is likely most attributable to the increase in access to psychological services, early detection/ screening programs, and more awareness around neurodiversity.

abundant crowberries in a bush, AlaskaADHD has been theorized as a beneficial evolutionary adaptation; Barack et. al (2024)  hypothesize that people with ADHD make better berry pickers (gatherers) through their risk-taking by searching different bushes; compared to people without ADHD who stayed at the same bush and picked less berries.

Research participants with ADHD collected more berries in the same amount of time than did participants without ADHD; suggesting a potential evolutionary advantage of neurodiversity.

7. “Mental Illness Can’t Impact Me” / “Mental Illness is Uncommon”

…. you sure about that?

More than 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental health issue.

5 hands and arms lined up ranging from Black to white skin.

Odds are, if you do not have a mental health issue, someone you know lives with a mental health issue.

Many people are impacted by mental illness whether through a personal diagnosis of anxiety, having a family member who struggles with substance misuse, or having a friend who survived a traumatic brain injury.

(but remember, mental health issues respond well to psychotherapy!)

8. “Only Veterans or Military Personnel Can Experience PTSD”

The awareness campaign around PTSD among soldiers and veterans was utterly successful, which helped society become familiar with PTSD and trauma.

leaves hanging on a line ranging in color from green, yellow, orange, and red. Misconceptions about mental health issues online therapy alaska

And because of that successful campaign, some people hold the impression that PTSD can only be diagnosed among people who have served in the military.

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

As a mental health diagnostician who has diagnosed individuals with PTSD, there is no necessary diagnostic criteria related to military experience, war, or combat (though these events are often traumatic).

PTSD is combination of distressing symptoms related to a traumatic event. Two people may experience the same traumatic event, and only one of them may go onto develop PTSD.

For example: The 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 2018, in Anchorage impacted hundreds of thousands of people. 

Only a fraction of people experienced PTSD from that event (which is incredibly reasonable, natural disasters can be a cause of PTSD) while other people may have barely been bothered, or some slept through the ordeal.

top half of adult spruce tree in black and white photo

Any person who perceived an event as traumatic (life threatening, or severely distressing) could go on to experience PTSD weeks following the event, though the development of PTSD is difficult to predict (Morganstein, Wynn, & West, 2021).

Some causes of PTSD may include: 

  • Physical Assault, Sexual Assault 

  • Natural Disasters 

  • Witnessing Violence (such as gun violence or domestic violence) 

  • Traumatic Falls 

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents 

  • Torture 

  • Abuse (including childhood emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse) 

  • Pregnancy or Childbirth Experiences 

  • Medical Procedures 

  • Exposure to War 

  • Being Threatened with a Weapon 

  • First Responder Jobs (potential exposure to traumatic events)

9. “People with Mental Illness are More Likely to be Violent”


I perceive this myth as one of the most prevalent modern misconceptions about mental health and mental illness.

People diagnosed with mental health disorders are more often the victims of violence, rather than perpetrators of violence.

In the U.S., less than 1% of violent crimes are committed by a person with a serious mental illness (as cited in Halle, Tzani-Pepelasi, Roumpini Pylarinou, & Fumagalli, 2020).

People with mental health issues are struggling, not planning out a fight. 

10. “Going to Therapy is a Sign of Weakness”

A classic myth, right?

It’s 2024. We as a society can confidently remind ourselves that going to therapy is an act of strength.


Being vulnerable (with a mental health professional) and processing previous trauma or issues, while focusing on meeting specific goals to improve your health and well-being?

Mental health issues are preventable; and mental health issues are treatable.

Generally speaking, the sooner people receive treatment the better. Seeking early treatment can help prevent symptoms from worsening, and treatment may be shorter in length.

If you aren’t sure how to find a therapist or how to start therapy, read 5 Steps to Find a Therapist (How to Start Therapy)

11. “ADHD Gets Better with Age”

As a human and therapist with ADHD, ah! False! Red flags!

ADHD, like other disabilities, receive more supports in educational (school) settings. The disability support for adults with neurodiversity are… scant.

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Symptoms of ADHD may change over the course of human development; meaning Make-Believe-Sarah’s ADHD symptoms were different when she was 8-years-old compared to symptoms at 34-years-old, though some symptoms may be stable over time.

Women are often underdiagnosed for ADHD due to bias that ADHD manifests as hyperactivity in boys. Many girls and women present with an inattentive form of ADHD, which is likely to go undetected in general screenings.

four people wearing pink purple and orange sweaters.

ADHD is a lifelong diagnosis; symptoms may change over time as people learn how to manage (or “mask”) symptoms, but ADHD does not slowly lose a letter with every decade of aging.

This information is provided as general knowledge and can be used for educational or self-improvement purposes; but is not intended to be used as medical advice or treatment. Always consult with your health providers about your specific health issues and concerns.


About the Author: 

Nicole is a pre-licensed psychotherapist under supervision of psychologist and board-approved supervisor Dr. Hannah Ekstrom (#196093, #125200) providing services to Alaskans via online psychotherapy (also called "telehealth").

Image of Nicole, a white woman, smiling and wearing a brown and blue cardigan while standing in front of a book shelf and plants.Image Caption: Image of Nicole, a white woman with short brown hair, smiling  wearing a brown and blue cardigan while standing in front of a book shelf and plants.

Nicole holds master's degree in clinical psychology from the University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Nicole offers individual and group therapy to adult men, women, and non-binary people. Nicole is LGBTQ+ friendly and ADHD/Autism affirming.

Read more about Nicole and the services she provides here.


Attoe, D. E., & Climie, E. A. (2023). Miss. diagnosis: A systematic review of ADHD in adult women. Journal of Attention Disorders, 27(7), 645–657.

Barack, D. L., Ludwig, V. U., Parodi, F., Ahmed, N., Brannon, E. M., Ramakrishnan, A., & Platt, M. L. (2024) Attention deficits linked with proclivity to explore while foraging. Proc. R. Soc.

Brandon C. Yarns, Justina T. Cassidy, Amy M. Jimenez, (2022). At the intersection of anger, chronic pain, and the brain: A mini-review, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 135.

Halle, C., Tzani-Pepelasi, C., Roumpini Pylarinou, N., Fumagalli, A. (2020). The link between mental health, crime and violence, New Ideas in Psychology, 58.

Kamenov, K., Twomey, C., Cabello, M., Prina, A. M., & Ayuso-Mateos, (2017). The efficacy of psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy and their combination on functioning and quality of life in depression: a meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine, 47(3), 414–425.

Morganstein, J. C., Wynn, G. H., & West, J. C. (2021). Post-traumatic stress disorder: update on diagnosis and treatment. BJPsych Advances, 27(3), 184–186. doi:10.1192/bja.2021.13

Ohrnberger, J., Fichera, E., Sutton, M. (2017). The relationship between physical and mental health: A mediation analysis. Social Science & Medicine, 195.

Pescosolido, B.A., Halpern-Manners, A., Luo, L., Perry, B., (2021). Trends in public stigma of mental illness in the US, 1996-2018. JAMA Network Open. 4(12). doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.40202

Singh, V., Kumar, A., & Gupta, S. (2022). Mental health prevention and promotion-A narrative review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 13.