Mental Health Myths & Facts

Reina Stewart and Cassandra Turner

October 8th, 2019



Myths & Facts About General Mental Health


Myth: Mental health issues are uncommon.

Fact: Mental health issues are more prevalent than many of us realize. Roughly 50% of the Canadian population will have or have had a mental health condition by age 40 [4]. Furthermore, suicide is one of the main causes of death among adolescents, young adults, and middle-aged individuals [5]. Research demonstrates that 24% of deaths are due to suicide among those aged 15-24 years and 16% among those aged 25-44 years [5]. These statistics are a good reminder that mental health issues are pervasive. If you have not experienced a mental illness, you likely know someone who has.


Myth: Children cannot develop mental health issues.

Fact: The belief that children are immune to mental illness is not supported by research [7]. In fact, research indicates that many mental health issues arise during childhood or adolescence and that 17% of kids aged 2-5 years meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health condition [6; 7; 9]. In 2012, 2.8 million or 10.1% of Canadian adolescents aged 15 and up reported symptoms that are consistent with mental or substance use disorders [13]. There are various mental health disorders that children and teens can develop. These disorders include, but are not limited to, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, anorexia nervosa, and alcohol use disorder [14].


Myth: People with mental health issues are violent.

Fact: Although people living with a mental health condition are often portrayed as threatening or dangerous in the media, these individuals are no more likely to carry out acts of violence than the general population [19;16]. In fact, individuals with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators [16].


Myth: Therapy is pointless and does not work.

Fact: Therapy has helped many people change their behaviours and reach their goals [3]. One study conveyed that, after 21 therapy sessions, approximately 50% of clients demonstrated clinically significant change, including symptom improvement, interpersonal changes, and enhanced quality of life, and that roughly 75% of clients showed these forms of progress after 40 sessions [10].

However, it is important to note that not all forms of therapy are evidence-based. Evidence-based practice in psychology is defined as “the integration of the best available research with clinical expertise in the context of patient characteristics, culture and preferences” [1]. Generally, evidence-based therapies have been found to outperform other therapies that have not been empirically tested [18]. So, if you are considering potential treatment options, looking into evidence-based forms of therapy may help to narrow your search.


Myths & Facts About Eating Disorders


Myth: People with eating disorders are always skinny.

Fact: Individuals with an eating disorder come in all shapes and sizes [17]. For example, individuals with bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or other specified feeding or eating disorders can be underweight, normal weight, or overweight, and may often fluctuate in weight. The truth is that you cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder, or determine how healthy someone is for that matter, just by looking at them [17].


Myth: Only women have eating disorders.

Fact: Even though eating disorders are more prevalent in women, men can still develop this form of mental illness [2]. The findings of one study suggest that men experience anorexia nervosa at a ratio of 1 for every 4 women with the disorder [2]. Other research demonstrates that this ratio is closer to 1 man for every 3 women [3]. It should also be noted that individuals who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community are at risk of developing eating disorders. Transgender individuals, for example, develop eating disorders much more often than cisgender people [12]. Thus, many individuals of differing gender identities are affected by eating disorders. The myth that only women experience eating disorders possibly contributes to the under diagnosis of other individuals who struggle with eating disorders [3].


Myths & Facts About Depression


Myth: Depression is always triggered by a specific life circumstance. 

Fact: Complex interactions between hereditary factors and life circumstances influence one’s susceptibility to depression and many other mental health disorders [3]. Some people are especially prone to developing depression due to biological, psychological, or sociocultural factors [3]. Research shows that when individuals who are particularly vulnerable to depression experience added stressors, they are more likely to develop this disorder [3]. So, the combination of having a predisposition to depression and experiencing additional stressors in life is what researchers believe typically leads to depression.


Myth: People with depression can just “snap out of it”.

Fact: As previously mentioned, depression is influenced by biological and genetic factors [3]. Various chemicals in our brain play a significant role in how we behave and feel [3]. The activity of these chemicals is not under our direct and voluntary control from moment to moment and so people cannot simply decide to shed their symptoms instantaneously [3]. Medication and behavioural activation treatments can be effective for treating depression [8]. The latter treatment involves increasing engagement in rewarding activities that are associated with the experience of pleasure or mastery and decreasing engagement in activities that maintain depression [8]. Experiencing depression is not a choice and it can be nearly impossible for someone to “snap out of it ” without treatment.


Myths & Facts About Anxiety


Myth: Fear and anxiety are always maladaptive. 

Fact: To a certain extent, fear and anxiety are a normal and adaptive part of life. However, it is important to recognize the distinction between what is adaptive and what is maladaptive. Anxiety is usually defined as general apprehension or nervousness about the future [3]. Fear, on the other hand, is a response to a perceived danger [3]. Feeling anxious can help us prepare for future obstacles and experiencing fear is advantageous when we must escape or confront an immediate hazard [3]. Some people feel fear and anxiety about many different areas of life on a daily basis and when no imminent threats are present. This can be an indication that these feelings are no longer adaptive [3].


Myth: Anxiety always manifests as panic.

Fact: There are several types of anxiety disorders. These disorders include, but are not limited to, specific phobia, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, and generalized anxiety disorder [3]. All anxiety disorders involve experiencing irrational worry and fear to a debilitating extent [3]. However, anxiety does not always manifest as panic. For example, some people with an anxiety disorder may experience irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, avoidance, muscle tension, and sleep disturbance [3]. Anxiety symptoms range in intensity and may be physiological, cognitive, or emotional [11]. 


Myths & Facts About Bipolar Disorders


Myth: People with bipolar disorders are just moody.

Fact: Bipolar disorders are not the same as being moody. All bipolar disorders involve shifting between mania or hypomania, which is a less intense form of mania, and major depression or sub-threshold depressive symptoms. [3]. During a manic episode, people often feel euphoric, enthusiastic, and intensely friendly, as well as occasionally irritable to an extreme extent [3]. A major depressive episode often involves a loss of interest and pleasure in previously enjoyable activities, low energy, feelings of inadequacy, and social withdrawal [3]. It should be recognized that mood changes, such as feeling happy for a while and then feeling grumpy, are not sufficient to diagnose bipolar disorder. When individuals call themselves or others “bipolar”, even though it is not the case, the severity of the disorder is minimized, and this contributes to stigma.


Myth: People with bipolar disorder constantly switch between manic and depressed moods. 

Fact: Approximately one third of individuals with bipolar disorder go through long periods of typical functioning between manic and major depressive episodes [3]. Some people with bipolar disorder tend to experience mostly depressive episodes or manic episodes [15]. Other individuals with bipolar disorder experience mixed episodes, which means that they quickly alternate between depressive and manic symptoms or they feel these symptoms simultaneously for at least one week [3]. Mixed episodes are a part of bipolar I disorder, which may be slightly less common than bipolar II disorder [3]. Bipolar II disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences hypomania as well as major depressive episodes [3]. So, the pattern of mood change among those with bipolar disorders varies significantly.





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[2] Baker, J. H., Maes, H. H., Lissner, L., Aggen, S. H., Lichtenstein, P., & Kendler, K. S. (2009). Genetic risk factors for disordered eating in adolescent males and females. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118(3), 576–586. 

[3] Butcher, J. N., Hooley, J. M., & Mineka, S. (2014) Abnormal Psychology (16th ed). New Jersey USA, Pearson Education Inc.

[4] Canadian Electronic Library (Firm), & Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2013). Making the case for investing in mental health in canada. S.l.: Mental Health Commission of Canada. (NO DOI)

[5] Canadian Mental Health Association. (n.d.). CMHA Mental Health Fact Sheet. Retrieved from

[6] Children’s Mental Health Ontario. (n.d.). Key facts and data points. Retrieved from

[7] Clinton, J., Kays-Burden, A., Carter, C., Bhasin, K., Cairney, J., Carrey, N., Janus, M., Kulkarni, C. and Williams, R. (2014). Supporting Ontario’s Youngest Minds: Investing in the Mental Health of Children Under 6. Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.

[8] Dimidjian, S., Hollon, S. D., Dobson, K. S., Schmaling, K. B., Kohlenberg, R. J., Addis, M. E., … & Atkins, D. C. (2006). Randomized trial of behavioral activation, cognitive therapy, and antidepressant medication in the acute treatment of adults with major depression. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology74(4), 658.

[9] Government of Canada. (2006). The human face of mental health and mental illness in Canada. Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.

[10] Lambert, M. J., Hansen, N. B., & Finch, A. E. (2001). Patient-focused research: Using patient outcome data to enhance treatment effects. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69(2), 159-172.

[11] Malivoire, B. L., Marcos, M., Pawluk, E. J., Tallon, K., Kusec, A., & Koerner, N. (2019). Look before you leap: The role of negative urgency in appraisals of ambiguous and unambiguous scenarios in individuals high in generalized anxiety disorder symptoms. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 48(3), 217–240.

[12] National Eating Disorders Association. (2018). Statistics and research on eating disorders. Retrieved from

[13] Pearson, Caryn, Teresa Janz and Jennifer Ali. 2013. “Mental and substance use disorders in Canada” 

[14] Phares, V. (2014). Understanding Abnormal Child Psychology, 3rd Edition. Wiley 

[15] Sentissi, O., Popovic, D., Moeglin, C., Stukalin, Y. B., Mosheva, M., Vieta, E., … Souery, D. (2019). Predominant polarity in bipolar disorder patients: The COPE bipolar sample. Journal of Affective Disorders, 250, 43–50.

[16] Stuart H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: an overview. World psychiatry: official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), 2(2), 121–124. (NO DOI)

[17] The Center for Eating Disorders. (2015). Eating disorder facts and myths. Retrieved from

[18] Weisz, J. R., Jensen-Doss, A., & Hawley, K. M. (2006). Evidence-based youth psychotherapies versus usual clinical care: a meta-analysis of direct comparisons. American Psychologist, 61(7), 671.

[19] Whitley, R., & Berry, S. (2013). Trends in newspaper coverage of mental illness in canada: 2005–2010. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 58(2), 107-112. doi:10.1177/070674371305800208

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