Healthy New Jersey

New Jersey Governor's Council on Mental Health Stigma

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Myths about Mental Illness

Falsehoods and Ignorance

Fallacies and lack of knowledge are generated by society and fuel the stigma of mental illness. The blatant use of terms like "schizo" and "psycho" perpetuate the myth that mental illness and violence go hand in hand. As stated in the Governor’s Mental Health Task Force Final Report by then-Stigma Council member the late Robin Cunningham, "The facts state otherwise. Those living with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators."

One Particularly Damaging Misconception: Individuals Cause their own Mental Illness

One of the more harmful misunderstandings is that those with mental illness have somehow caused their illness and can "stop" at any time. That is tantamount to saying that someone with cancer can "stop" at any time. Research has clearly shown that there are biological and behavioral components to mental illness and that clinical care for it - through the appropriate use of medication and psychotherapy - facilitates wellness and recovery. Yet, society still continues to treat mental illness differently from other illnesses.

The wellbeing of our communities will remain compromised until there is a unified understanding that mental health and the treatment of mental illness is paramount to the whole health picture of every individual.

The Media and the Entertainment Industry

The media and the entertainment industry play a significant role in the perpetuation of myths and fallacies when they use offensive exaggeration and inappropriate language in their characterizations of individuals living with mental illness. The damage done by this kind of flagrant misrepresentation is not to be underestimated. It behooves all to be mindful of the fact that inaccurate depictions of those living with mental illness have as profound an impact as the insensitive stereotyping of certain diverse populations that has been, and still is, prevalent in media and entertainment. We will be dealing more with the topic of the media and entertainment in our category entitled A Community Effort.

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