Mental Health’s Most Toxic Myth

Daniel Morehead, MD | Psychiatric Times
Mental Health’s Most Toxic Myth


The biggest and most deeply destructive myth of mental health is the twisted notion that there is a group of people called the “mentally ill” who are somehow different and separate from the rest of us. “We,” the majority composed of “normal” people, are not like them, the mentally ill. They are different from the rest of us, worthy of pity and curiosity. But since we are good, sympathetic people, we all want to help “those people” who suffer from such illnesses out of the goodness of our hearts.

What is wrong with all of this? The delusional idea that we are separate in any way from the mentally ill. In fact, there is no them because the people who deal with mental illness are us. All of us. Literally all of us deal with mental illness. Every single one of us does. How can this be true? Because massive, carefully performed studies tell us that half of our population experiences some form of mental illness over the course of their lives. Fifty percent of us experience mental illness directly.1 And what about the other 50% of us? The other 50% have the experience of seeing someone we love suffer from mental illness. Whether it is a friend, a family member, or a close coworker, every single one of us loves someone who experiences mental illness. All of us are affected by mental illness, directly or indirectly. There is no them; we are them.

The Myth in Psychiatry

There is no social group that does not include individuals with mental illness. Politicians, attorneys, CEOs, teachers, members of the media, and working individuals everywhere experience mental illness. There is no line we can draw anywhere in society that has individuals with mental illness on one side and individuals without it on the other. This is just as true among doctors and mental health professionals as any other group. Even in a mental health clinic or psychiatric hospital, no such line of division exists. Many of the patients are medical and mental health professionals, while many of the mental health professionals treating them experience mental illness.

How do we know this? In truth, we only have a vague idea of how many psychiatrists and other mental health professionals experience mental illness...