There are so many misunderstandings and myths about mental illness.  Over the years that I have worked in the field, I have been asked questions that sometimes lead to involuntary raising of my eyebrows.  I suppose however, that I am prone to asking my Financial Advisor questions that lead to a similar reaction as to be honest, apart from income and expenditure, I really don’t know much about the financial industry.  I think that in life there are some things that we need to know and understand while other things are best left to the experts.  After all, this is why we all have jobs.  So when it comes to illness, whether it be mental or physical, you might feel that this is best left to the doctors and therapists.  But when there is an increasing prevalence of illness that affects you in your day to day life, whether this be at home or at work, I think that some basic understanding becomes essential, hence my writing of this article.

So I am going to proceed by answering some of the most frequently asked questions that I have heard when it comes to mental illness and this should clear up some if the misunderstandings out there.

  1. What are some common examples?

In the most recent version of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, published in 2013, there are 157 diagnoses.  Included are 8 different types of depressive disorders.

The depressive and anxiety disorders are the most common / prevalent worldwide.

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic-depression, has been on a significant increase in prevalence in the past decade or so.

Post-traumatic-stress disorder has become a condition that affects a lot more of the general population than previously when it was reserved mainly for returning military veterans and emergency services personnel.

The psychotic disorders such as Schizophrenia, tend to be the most severe, sometimes requiring long-term institutionalization of sufferers

  1. Is brain damage an example?

No.  Brain damage is a neurological condition.

  1. Do sufferers have low IQs?

No.  Low IQ is not a typical problem for sufferers.  In fact, some of the most intelligent people that have ever lived have suffered from mental illness, such as the mathematical genius John Nash played by Russel Crowe in the movie, A Beautiful Mind.

  1. Is mental retardation one of the conditions?

No.  Mental retardation is physical and neurological condition resulting from problems during in-utero development.

  1. Is it curable?

No.  There is no cure such as chemotherapy might cure cancer by eliminating the guilty cells in the body.  However, many types are manageable with a combination of pharmacological and therapeutic interventions.

  1. Is it genetic?

People can be genetically predisposed rather than there being a specific gene as a cause.  It is generally accepted that most types are caused by a combination of genetic and familial predisposition, environment, chemicals and hormones, and stress and trauma.

  1. Is it life threatening?

Yes.  Suicide rates have never been higher in the world than they are today and approximately 90% of people who commit suicide have an underlying mental illness.

  1. What is the difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?

A Psychiatrist is a Doctor and a Psychologist is a Therapist.  Only Psychiatrists can prescribe medication whereas Psychologists undertake therapeutic interventions.

Psychiatrists first study for 6 years to become Doctors and then study for a further 4 years to become Psychiatrists.

Psychologists first study a Bachelor’s degree for 3 years, followed by 1 year of Honours and then 2 years of Masters in Psychology. 

  1. Does it include alcohol and drug addiction?

Yes.  All Substance Use Disorders are included in the DSM-5.

  1. Is it contagious?

No, definitely not.

  1. Are sufferers dangerous and violent?

Rarely.  This is one of the biggest myths.  Sufferers are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

  1. Can it be considered a type of disability?

Yes.  According to the World Health Organisation in 2020, depression was the second highest cause of disability globally.  And that was before the Covid pandemic.

  1. Are sufferers employable in the open labour market?

Yes, definitely.  As with all physical illnesses, this depends on the severity of the condition and whether or not there are co-morbidities.

  1. Can it be proven by medical tests such as radiological and blood investigations?

Rarely.  Unfortunately it remains a rather grey area of medicine with diagnoses usually being based on subjective patient and family reports, together with the Psychiatrist’s expertise and experience.

  1. Are anti-depressants and sleeping tablets addictive?

No, not as a rule.  When taken under the direction of a Psychiatrist, these agents are completely safe and patients can be weaned off them usually without any long-term adverse effect.

  1. Can it be faked?

Unfortunately yes.  Due to the often invisible and subjective nature of the symptoms, it can be faked.  This is usually seen in people seeking some or other secondary gain such as attention or financial reward.  However, there are a number of “red flags” that can be looked out for by the trained eye that can help to differentiate between real and fake illness.


I hope this helps to answers some of the questions that you might have about mental illness.  For those questions that I have not answered, please feel free to get in touch.


Take care everyone.

Your Partner in Mental Health Matters @ Work,


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