Fact, Fiction or Fickle: Mental Health Myths

We ask a local mental health expert if these myths are fact, fiction or fickle.

Expert: Emily Gentes, PhD, Psychologist, Women’s Partial Program, Butler Hospital


Myth: Mental health issues are more common than we think.


Mental illness is quite common. Almost half (46 percent) of Americans will meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health issue at some point in their lives.


Myth: Women and men have the same inclination towards different mental health issues.


Rates of several mental health issues do usually vary by sex, with women more prone to certain mental health issues and men more prone to others. Depression and anxiety are generally more common in women while men generally have higher rates of substance use disorders. But then other mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, seem to affect both women and men equally.

Myth: Women and men exhibit the same symptoms for mental illnesses across the board.


Symptoms for many mental health issues, including depression, can be different between women and men. The reason for these differences is still not fully understood.


Myth: Depression can only be treated with anti-depressants.


Several non-pharmaceutical treatments can be effective at treating depression. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a treatment in which a therapist helps the patient to change beliefs and behaviors associated with depression. It may be as effective as antidepressant medication in reducing symptoms and seems to reduce the risk of future depression long after therapy has ended. Recent research even suggests that CBT may be related to some of the same brain changes as antidepressant medication. It is important to work with a doctor to find an appropriate treatment or combination of treatments.


Myth: Being physically healthy can help with depression and other mental illnesses.


Caring for physical health is an important part of preventing and treating depression and other mental illnesses. The symptoms of depression, anxiety or other mental illness can make it difficult to maintain nutrition, sleep, exercise and a regular daily routine, yet each of these is important to recovery and coping with mental illness. Research even suggests that a consistent routine of aerobic exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and anxiety.


Myth: You should only seek therapy if you have a “major” mental health issue.


It can be helpful to seek therapy for even “minor” symptoms, mental health issues or life stressors. Therapy can teach helpful skills for managing or coping with mental health issues or difficult life events. This can ease the effect that these issues have on your day-to-day life and functioning, and can also help prevent “minor” issues from turning into more “major” issues.


Myth: Mental illness can stem from either genetics or experiences; there is no single cause.

F A C T 

The causes of most mental health issues are very complex and not yet fully understood. Research suggests that most mental health issues are caused by a combination of biological (e.g., genetics), psychological (e.g., cognitive style), and environmental (e.g., stress, trauma) factors.