6 mental health myths that need to be squashed
By Scott R. Mote, Executive Director of the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program
A mental illness is a treatable medical condition that involves changes in thinking, emotion or behavior that can affect people of all ages, races, religions, and income levels. Some examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. When a person has a mental illness, he or she finds it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life.
Mental health issues affect everyone, even judges. Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to mental illness. Sometimes, people define others by their illnesses rather than who they are as individuals. This happens often, which leads the person living with mental illness to refuse to get help because of feelings of shame, isolation and hopelessness. As judges, you help people on a daily basis. Let’s start helping those with mental illness by educating ourselves and others.
The following are myths about mental illness that need to be squashed. The more that people understand about mental health and decrease its stigma, the more likely people will be willing to seek help.
Myth: People with mental health disorders can just snap out of it. They choose not to because they are weak or have character flaws.
Fact: Having a mental illness is like any other illness that needs treatment. If you have a fever, a bad cough and cannot get out of bed, you go see your doctor for help. The same goes for mental health. If depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental health disorders are keeping you from your normal routine, you need to seek help and get proper treatment.
It’s impossible to just snap out of pneumonia, just as it is impossible to snap out of a mental health issue.
Mental health disorders are not contributed to being weak or having character flaws. Many factors, such as biology, genes, brain chemistry, trauma, and abuse can cause mental illness.
Unfortunately, because of the stigma associated with mental illness, many people do not seek treatment. Only 44% of adults with diagnosable mental illnesses receive treatment.1
Myth: People with mental health problems have no hope. They will never get better.
The truth is mental illness is treatable. There are many different methods that are used to treat mental disorders, such as behavioral therapy and medication. In fact, 70-90% of people who seek proper treatment for mental health disorders witness a significant reduction in symptoms.1
Myth: I can’t help a person with a mental health problem.
Friends, colleagues and loved ones can truly make a difference and influence a person to get help. If you notice a colleague is having a difficult time, communicate that you value his or her well-being, and show them the path to treatment. If you have conquered mental illness, be an advocate for other legal professionals who might be afraid to speak up. Share your story so that others can feel confident sharing theirs.
You can also:
Learn and share facts about mental health, especially if you hear something that isn’t true
Treat the person with respect, just as you would anyone else
Refuse to define people by their diagnosis or using labels such as “crazy”
Contact the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (800-348-4343, www.ohiolap.org) for help
Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me.
Mental health issues affect everyone, even judges. The American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP) released the 2019 National Judicial Stress and Resilience Survey, which identifies the primary sources of judicial stress. It found that 38.8% of judges surveyed felt fatigue and low energy after several cases, and 22.9% felt they did not have the initiative they used to. These feelings can lead to depression and anxiety.
Other signs and symptoms of mental illness include:
Withdrawal from activities
Inappropriate behavior, moods
Decreasing quality of performance
Inappropriate pleadings, decisions
Co-workers and staff "gossip" about changes in behavior
Malpractice and disciplinary claims
Missed hearings, appointments, depositions
Loss of clients, practice, respect
Change of friends, acquaintances
Loss of confidence in attorney by community leaders
Isolation from support systems
If you or a colleague are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important that you get help. Contact the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program (800-348-4343, www.ohiolap.org). All inquiries are confidential.
Myth: Substance use disorder is not associated with mental health issues.
The fact is that 50.5% of adults in the U.S. who have substance use disorder also suffer from mental illness.1 At OLAP, we treat many legal professionals who have a dual diagnosis. This means that they are living with mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, and they use substances, such as alcohol, prescription medications or illegal drugs to cope.
Treatment for dual diagnosis includes integrated intervention, where a person receives care for both their diagnosed mental illness and substance use disorder. Both issues must be addressed.
Myth: I can get better on my own.
Truth: Just as you cannot treat a disease such as cancer on your own, you cannot will yourself to get mentally healthy. Sure, you can exercise, meditate and be more present, which are helpful and work for some people, but if your mental illness is keeping you from being competent and the best judge you can be, you must seek professional help.
Fact: You can help
As a judge, you help people, and you are a leader in your community. Help end the stigma of mental health. Learn the facts about mental health, be cognizant of them, and help yourself or someone you think is struggling. Be quick to dispel something that is not true. Avoid labeling people with negative words, such as “crazy,” “wacko,” “loony,” or by their diagnosis. Instead of saying someone is a “schizophrenic” say “a person living with schizophrenia.” Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity, as you would anybody else.
1 Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work” (Link: https://dworakpeck.usc.edu).