MYTHS & FACTS
MYTH: PEOPLE DO NOT RECOVER FROM MENTAL ILLNESS
FACT: PEOPLE RECOVER AND WORK LIKE PEOPLE WITH OTHER DISEASES
Psychiatric disabilities vary in severity, but people do recover. For example, people diagnosed with schizophrenia, once considered to be the most severe form of psychiatric disability, have a higher recovery rate than many people with physical illnesses.
MYTH: PEOPLE WITH PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES NEED LONG TERM HOSPITAL CARE
FACT: MOST PEOPLE WITH PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES CAN LIVE IN THE COMMUNITY
Like other people in crisis, people with psychiatric disabilities may be hospitalized for acute episodes. Except for those limited situations, it is more effective to offer the person a range of community-based services. This supports recovery and allows people to utilize the treatment or services that work best for them, and to remain or become as self-sufficient as possible. An alternative to costly and debilitating long term institutionalization is to establish a broad continuum of services, including safe, affordable housing, education and job training, ongoing access to counseling and recreational activities, and assistance to meet basic needs.
MYTH: PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS ARE DANGEROUS
FACT: THEY ARE NO MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE GENERAL POPULATION
Because of high-profile events sensationalized by the media, there is a misperception that people with mental illness tend to be violent toward others. This is not true. “The prevalence of violence among people who have been discharged from a hospital is about the same as the prevalence of violence among other people living in their communities.” [MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study (4/99)]. In fact, people are more likely to encounter violence from a family member than from someone with a mental disability. Alcohol and/or drug use can increase the possibility of violence, as it can wilth all people. However, people with mental disabilities are more likely to be victims of crime, because it can make them more vulnerable to attack.
MYTH: MENTAL ILLNESS ONLY HAPPENS TO PEOPLE LIVING IN POVERTY
FACT: PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITY EFFECTS EVERYONE
Mental disabilities do not discriminate by race, gender, income, profession, age or sexual preference. Anyone can develop a psychiatric disability at any time in life. However, because of discrimination, many people do not mention their disability. Many people with psychiatric disabilities do live in poverty, because they lack the supports that would enable them to work and become self-sufficient. In fact, until recently, people who went to work were penalized with the loss of insurance coverage. In addition, Connecticut “steals” the annual cost of living increase in federal disability benefits by reducing the State Supplement grant for persons who are aged, blind or disabled.
MYTH: MENTAL ILLNESS DIMINISHES A PERSON’S INTELLIGENCE
FACT: PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITY HAS NO EFFECT ON A PERSON’S INTELLIGENCE
Psychiatric disabilities can affect people’s emotions, perceptions, thought and behavior. This will vary according to the person and the disability, and whether the person is presently in crisis. The medications used to treat psychiatric disabilities often effect people’s appearance and ability to think, feel, or communicate. However, they are NOT symptoms of mental illness. People with psychiatric disabilities retain their intellect. Many brilliant and well known people, including Abraham Lincoln, Ludwig van Beethoven, Sir Isaac Newton, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, and Patty Duke, have lived with psychiatric disabilities.
MYTH: PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS CANNOT BE GOOD PARENTS
FACT: PEOPLE WITH PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES CAN BE AND ARE GOOD PARENTS
Like persons with other illnesses, people with psychiatric disorders can still be loving, caring and effective parents and role models for their children. In fact, if a parent has adequate coping skills, the child may not be aware of the illness at all. In other cases, the parent may need support from family, friends and public programs in order to carry out all of his or her parental responsibilities. As part of their parenting responsibilities, individuals with psychiatric disabilities often make provisional plans for the care of their children in the event that they have a relapse. Often they are more prepared for problems than other parents.
MYTH: ALL PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS HAVE TO TAKE MEDICATIONS
FACT: MEDICATION IS NOT REQUIRED TO TREAT MENTAL ILLNESS
Many people with psychiatric disabilities can manage their symptoms without medication by using other tools to treat the illness, such as therapy, skill training, support groups and services that promote self-esteem and self-sufficiency. While medications may reduce some symptoms, they cause severe adverse effects such as lethargy, memory loss, impotence, dry mouth, blurred vision, disfiguring and often permanent nerve and motor damage, and can cause other medical problems, including brain damage and death. Unfortunately, the use of medication can often be seen as a simple, quick, and cheap way to reduce symptoms and to be used as a substitute for the therapy and other services essential for long term recovery.
MYTH: CONNECTICUT NEEDS MORE HOSPITAL BEDS FOR MENTAL ILLNESS
FACT: THE STATE REALLY NEEDS MORE COMMUNITY SERVICES
There are adults and children currently being “held” in expensive institutional and residential settings only because Connecticut does not have the community mental health services and housing that they need. This not only wastes tax dollars, but it creates “gridlock” in the system because people who need hospital services can’t get them. In addition, it means that private hospitals are forced to keep children longer than necessary, forcing others to remain in emergency rooms, and they routinely discharge adults to shelters because there is no housing or services for them in the community.
MYTH: COMMUNITY PROVIDERS ARE FAIRLY PAID FOR SERVICES
FACT: STATE MEDICAID RATES AND GRANTS DO NOT PAY THE COST OF CARE
State funding for mental health services, particularly services provided by private providers such as hospitals and private non-profit community services, has not kept pace with the cost of doing business. This has affected the continuity and quality of care by promoting staff turnover, limiting staff training, delaying the implementation of state of the art services and stifling the development of new services. The result is a system that is fragmented and stretched to the point of ineffectiveness. Rather than support recovery, it can delay and undermine recovery.
MYTH: CONNECTICUT LACKS THE FUNDS NEEDED FOR MENTAL HEALTH
FACT: THE STATE HAS THE RESOURCES TO INVEST IN MENTAL HEALTH
The state did not transfer all of the money saved from the closure of two large state hospitals into the community system. Nor has state spending for mental health kept pace with the demand for services. However, the State can generate significant federal revenue by utilizing Medicaid coverage for mental health services as other states have done, and using those funds to fix the crisis in mental health services. In addition, there are funds available from a multi-million dollar state surplus. WE HAVE THE MONEY, WE NEED THE WILL TO END THE CRISIS IN MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES.
CALL CONNECTICUT LEGAL RIGHTS PROJECT, INC. FOR INFORMATION AND ASSISTANCE
Connecticut Legal Rights Project, Inc. (CLRP), is a non-profit agency which advocates for low income adults who have, or are perceived to have, a psychiatric disability. CLRP is separate from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS).
CLRP’s attorneys and advocates provide services ranging from brief advice to full legal representation with legal problems related to:
- services and/or treatment from mental health or other providers;
- enforcement of rights guaranteed by state or federal law, such as due process, non-discrimination, and informed consent; and
administrative and judicial procedures such as grievances, conservatorship, commitment, and medication hearings
PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS
The subject of mental health has received a lot of attention in the past year. In December 1999 the U.S. Surgeon General released the most comprehensive statement on mental health ever made by the federal government. It recognized that mental health is an important national public health issue that is usually misunderstood. It noted that approximately one in five Americans experience a mental disability during the course of a single year, but less than one-third of those with mental disabilities receive any form of treatment.
There are many reasons that a person may not receive treatment for mental illness. Among them is the lack of insurance coverage, restrictions on the services covered by managed care, and the failure of the public system to provide enough services to meet the demand. Unfortunately, there are two other factors that stop people from getting treatment: ignorance and fear. Many people do not recognize their own disability, and if they do, they are afraid to seek treatment due to the stigma associated with this disease. They are afraid of what people will think, and many parents are justifiably concerned that mental health treatment will jeopardize the custody of their children.
In January 2000 Governor Rowland established a Blue Ribbon Commission on Mental Health which was instructed to review the status of Connecticut’s system and make recommendations to restore its national status. The report documented numerous systemic problems throughout the children’s and adult mental health systems, and emphasized that the stigma associated with mental illness, and the hostility that it promotes, must be confronted if we are to build an effective system.
This flyer addresses some of the most common myths about mental illness. It is intended to challenge the public’s most frequent misperceptions, and encourage readers to learn more and share their knowledge. Public education can be a powerful tool if we use it. It was not that long ago that it was considered sociable to urge party-goers to “have one for the road,” and that many of us worked in offices filled with tobacco smoke. Attitudes toward those public health concerns have changed, and so can the public’s understanding of mental health. We hope that you will help with this effort.
The information in this flyer is effective as of