10 Misconceptions and Myths About Psychiatry

There are certain misconceptions about psychiatry that people have lived with over the years simply because either they do not understand the nature of psychiatric illnesses or because they are firmly rooted in their cultural beliefs.

These beliefs have been proven to be inaccurate as they are really unfounded and cannot be backed by scientific rationale. They have partially been responsible for the negligence a psychiatric patient is sometimes exposed to.

1. That psychiatric illness is special and different from physical illness: The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines Health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”

Illnesses therefore manifest in different forms. The physical illness manifests in form of headache, fever, pain, cough, etc. So also does psychiatric illness manifest in form of irrational behaviour. The above manifestations are known as symptoms of a disease: it doesn’t matter whether they are physical or otherwise; an illness is an illness.

2. Psychiatric patients are violent and dangerous: This is not always true as quite a number of these patients are less violent than some of those people who are perceived to be well.

3. Psychiatric patients never get well once they visit the market: This is untrue as a lot of them have been picked from the market place and taken to the hospital for treatment and they got well after proper management.

4. Psychiatric illness is a punishment for one’s sins: Illnesses are caused by germs, poisons, hormonal imbalance, stress, genetic problem, etc. The same is true for mental illnesses. They are not caused by curses or sins: they are caused by any of the afore-mentioned.

5. Psychiatric disease is incurable: Treatment of a psychiatric problem could take a long time before the patient gets well. The same is true for diseases like peptic ulcer disease, tuberculosis, renal disease, cardiac disease, etc…

Mentally ill patients could suffer relapse as also seen in malaria, eczema, asthma, peptic ulcer, etc and they could also have chronicity. The same occurs in other forms of physical illnesses.

6. Psychiatric illness is infectious: psychiatric illness is the safest to stay close to as they are not contagious. Unlike some forms of physical illnesses, they are not transmitted through contact with the patient or through contact with bodily discharges.

7. Psychiatric nurses are only trained to handle psychiatric patients: This is only a specialization area. Every trained nurse has the basic training in the care of patients and can work in any hospital or health care set up.

8. Psychiatric illness is seasonal: This also is incorrect. Patients may periodically have relapse but their sickness is not seasonal.

9. Psychiatric nurses behave like their patients: The environment could affect one’s behaviour in some ways. The exposure of the nurse to the mentally ill patients helps the nurse to develop emotionally and understand the importance of interpersonal relationship.

10. One becomes mentally ill if bitten by a psychiatric patient: The illness cannot be transmitted through saliva or human bite. It is a disease of the mind and so cannot infect another person.

The understanding of these misconceptions would enable us relate better with a patient with mental illness and be well equipped to lend a helping hand whenever necessary to alleviate their plight.

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