Mental Illness

Mental Illness: Myth and Reality

MYTH: Mental illness does not affect the average person.
REALITY: No one is immune to mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health's statistics show 35 million Americans have some form of mental illness in any give six months.
MYTH: Most people who struggle with mental illness live on the streets or are in mental hospitals.
REALITY: About two thirds of Americans who have a mental illness live in the community, either with their family or in various types of community living settings.
MYTH: Children do not get mental illness.
REALITY: Twelve million children and adolescents do suffer diagnosable mental disorders including depression, attention deficit disorder, and conduct disorder.
MYTH: A person can recover from a mental illness by turning his or her thoughts positively and with prayer.
REALITY: Recovery is possible when the person receives the necessary treatment and supportive services.
MYTH: People who have mental illness are dangerous.
REALITY: People who have a mental illness are no more violent than someone suffering from cancer, diabetes, or any other serious disease. More often, they are the victims of violence.
MYTH: If you have a mental illness, you are "crazy" all the time.
REALITY: People suffering from even the most severe mental illnesses are in touch with reality as often as they are actively psychotic. Many quietly bear the pain of mental illness without ever acting "crazy".
MYTH: If people with other handicaps can cope on their own, people who have a mental illness should be able to do so as well.
REALITY: Most people who have been through a disabling illness need help, or rehabilitation, to return to normal functioning. Physical therapy often fills this role after physical illness. Similarly, following mental illness, social rehabilitation is often needed.

Who has a Mental Illness?

  • We are your brother--your sister--the neighbor across the street--or--the person next to you in the pew--and some of us are homeless.

  • One in four families is touched by severe mental illness
  • The brain is part of the body. It too can become ill.
  • Mental illness is a term used for a group of disorders causing serious disturbances in thinking, feeling, and relating, which result in a substantially diminished capacity for coping with ordinary demands of life. Mental illnesses can affect persons of all ages and can occur in any family.

    The causes are not yet fully understood, but science is making new discoveries every day. Researchers now believe that the functioning of the brain's neurotransmitters is distured biochemically and/or structurally. These changes are not unlike the changes that occur in diabetes or heart disease.

    There is no effective prevention for mental illness at this time, nor are there "cures." However, the severity of the episodes can be minimized by a healthy lifestyle. Just as diabetes and heart disease can be managed by medication and treatment, an ever expanding range of psychotropic medications and treatment regimens enable persons with mental illness to manage their symptoms and lead fulfilling lives.

    Some of the Major Mental Illnesses

    Schizophrenia affects men and women about equally. Its onset is usually in the late teens or twenties. About one in every one hundred persons is afflicted with schizophrenia. According to Dr. E. Fuller Torrey in Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual, of those afflicted, about 25% recover completely, 50% can improve with appropriate treatment, and 25% may remain the same or decline.

    Affective Disorders are the most common of the psychiatric disorders. They are generally less persistently disabling than schzophrenia. The primary disturbance is that of affect or mood. Mood disorders may be bipolar, as in manic-depressive illness, with extreme high and low mood swings, or unipolar, as in depressive illness, in which the individual suffers persistent, severe depression.

    Material adapted from a brochure by the Religious Network of the Arizona Alliance for the Mentally Ill, based on a brochure adapted by Pathways to Promise: Interfaith Ministries and Prolonged Mental Illness from a leaflet, "Who Are the Mentally Ill," by the Catholic Commission for the Handicapped, Archdiocese of St. Louis, MO, and partially funded by the St. Louis Alliance for the Mentally Ill.

    What Can We Do?

    Support with love and understanding those who have a serious mental illness and their families. Offer help to a family living with a person who has a brain disease, perhaps by sitting with an ill person, when needed. Serious mental illness tends to isolate people. Be a friend to those who have no friends. Make persons with disabilities, including mental illnesses, feel welcome and a part of your family of faith. Offer to sit with him during a religious service. Invite her to lunch afterwards. Include them in such things as a trip to the ballgame.

    Educate yourself, your clergy, your congregation about what serious mental illness is and what it is not. Combat the myths about mental illness. Persons with schizophrenia do not have a "split personality" nor are they prone to criminal violence. A person who has a mental illness is no more violent than other folk, and in fact, is often a victim of violence. Mental illness is not caused by bad parenting and is not evidence of weakness of character. Mental illness is not mental retardation. Information is available from the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Pennsylvania (717-238-1514).

    Advocate for better housing, better services, and jobs. Be alert to pending legislation regarding psychiatrically disabled persons. Call or write the governor and state and federal legislators to let them know you care about the quality of life for all persons.

    Hire folk with mental illnesses for suitable jobs. Intelligence is not necessarily altered by the illness. For private employeers, there can be tax advantages.

    Research into the causes of, and treatments for, serious mental illness needs to be better funded. While some important private research is being done, 90% of all research money comes from the federal government. We need to ask for increased funding for research.

    Pray for persons who suffer from serious mental illness and for those who work to help them--families, professionals, others. Pray, also, for a better understanding of the concerns of people affected by mental illness.

    Telephone Numbers

    Delaware County Alliance for the Mentally Ill (AMI)
  • Religious Outreach Committee Chair
  • Patient Advocate for AMI
  • Chapter President
  • Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Pennsylvania (AMI)
    The Access Line (Delaware County Information Service)



    Mental Illness Network, United Methodist Church

    Resolution: Caring Communities
    The United Methodist Mental Illness Network

    In faithful witness to the General Conference Resolution "Ministries on Mental Illness", the General Board of Church and Society shall build a United Methodist Mental Illness network of congregations :
    1. to advocate and educate on the issues of mental illness;
    2. to welcome persons and families with mental illness to our communities of faith;
    3. to encourage ministry to and with persons with mental illness.
    Congregations are asked to conduct a program of awareness and education on the nature and issues of mental illness and to endorse a "Commitment to Mental Illness Ministry". These actions shall become the basis for their participation in the National Mental Illness Network and shall confirm them as "Caring Communities". As a symbol of their commitment and welcome, they shall display to the public the emblem of "Caring Community".

    Adopted on 10/9/94 by the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church. For more information about the Mental Illness Network, contact GBCS at the address below:

    United Methodist General Board of Church and Society
    100 Maryland Avenue NE
    Suite 200
    Washington, DC 20002

    Mental Illness Resources


    A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness, Patty Duke and Gloria Hochman (Excellent--both anecdotal--Patty's experience--and scientific).

    An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Kay Redfield Jamison (Professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, who has manic depressive illness).

    Surviving Schizophrenia: A Family Manual, E. Fuller Torrey (This is recognized as the authoritative book on the subject).

    When Someone You Love Has a Mental Illness: a Handbook for Family, Friends and Caregivers (It comes well-recommended).


  • Pathways to Promise: Interfaith Ministries and Prolonged Mental Illness, 5400 Arsenal St. Louis, MO 63139.
  • National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), 200 N. Glebe Road, #1015, Arlington, VA 22203-3754.
  • Alliamce for the Mentally Ill of Pennsylvania (AMI of PA), 2149 N. Second Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110, 1-800-223-0500.
  • United Methodist Resources:

    Contact GBCS for the brochure Faithful Witness on Today's Issues dealing with mental illness (cost $1.50). For information about the UM Mental Illness Network and the church's advocacy concerning mental illness, contact Mental Illness Network of Caring Communities, GBCS, 100 Maryland Ave. NE, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20002

    Links to other Heath Care Resources

    Prepared by the EPA Church and Society Mental Health Work Team

    Contact webmaster:

    Last Updated: 9/18/97

    Created: September 18, 1997