The Scientific Myths of Mental Illness


The Scientific Myths of Mental Illness

John G. Watson


Table of Contents

Title Page……………………………………………………………………………….…1

Table of Content………………………………………………………………………..…2


The Scientific Myth of Mental Illness…………………………………………………………….4

How the Myths of Mental Illness Derived………………………………………………...8

Stereotypes and Myths of Mental Illness Persist Today……………………………………9 Dispelling the Myth and Making it Possible......................................................................11








Many people believe myths are to be untrue stories or even lies. If you were to follow along someone like Joseph Campbell interpret an mythology like the Hero's Journey you will see that it is more than metaphors that provide us with symbols of life, it is a map that guides one through their human revolution (Milum, 2003).

What you are about to embark upon in this paper will allow you to learn more about the scientific mythology on mental illness. The writings here will intertwine three stages in which reflects the phase's separation, initiation and return from a story The Hero with a Thousand Faces based on Joseph Campbell’s work and how this story relates to me (Milum, 2003).

Also explained, is the way the media perpetuate the stereotypes and myth of mental illness. Their misconception implanted in the minds of the public scares them. You will understand why people think those with mental illness are violent and dangerous (SAMHSA'S, n.d.).

Following the above chapter and those thereafter, you will understand the truth and facts about some of the myths and stereotypes in which are perpetuated while proving how it persist today. You will learn how four letters can help abolish the stigmas that exist today as well as other strategies in which will change the way people think and behave toward the mentally ill.  




The Scientific Myth of Mental Illness

The world's leading expert on comparative mythology Joseph Campbell attended a conference on psychosis at Esalen Institute. There he proclaimed the parallels between the imagery of schizophrenia and that of the Hero's Journey. He was not the only person to do so however. Many psychiatrists and social scientists have also pointed out the similar themes found in myths and in psychosis (Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1985).

Campbell's classic treatise, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, according to the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology is a systematic study of the patterns constant in mythology in which it states,

The relevance of myth to psychosis is that the Hero's Journey-although told in terms of outer events with princes and dragons, battles and ordeals-is actually a metaphor for the venture into the psyche. Since psychosis is also a venture into the psyche, myth should be helpful as a metaphor used in understanding the psychotic process. In turn, accounts by psychotic individuals inform us more about the nature of myth on the experimental level, not merely the intellectual level. (Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1985)

Joseph Campbell quotes, "To my amazement the imagery of schizophrenic fantasy perfectly matches that of the mythological Hero's Journey" he goes on to say in other parts of his story that "We need rituals of telling-telling is a way to mythmaking in our life-it is telling our myth. One's myth must be told. Not telling is poison and makes us sick" (Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1985).

 As a Campbell fan and admirer since the beginning of this century, I know that the Hero’s Journey analyzes three phases.  These phases are the separation, the initiation, and the return. You will learn here that from a very young age like many people I have had a close relationship with the inner workings of my psyche probably due to the unawareness of having mental illness.

I have gone through the three phases related to my mental illness in my teens, and twenties in which got me nowhere in life career wise. The illness provided me disabling capabilities in the social area of life, which sent me into depression allowing me to feel low self-esteem as well as low energy leaving me with many lost opportunities. The journeys before that had me leave to the call to the adventure bringing me back to experience the freedom to live taught me to believe in myself, trust myself, and just live with the knowing and my choice of faith from a child. I began to have deep understanding that everything is one in life and realized that all philosophies and religions were teaching the same principles as their foundation.

Joseph Campbell taught that the hero's journey is primarily a journey to the center of my inner wholeness and understanding. Nevertheless, I bended from living on the correct path towards wholeness, I thirst for more and began another quest to read into different cults. I practiced the regimens in front of my primary faith.

 On the tail end of working as a Ki or Chi Therapist for a martial arts company while I was continuing my martial arts training, the separation or departure in which talked about in the Hero's Journey a point when a person realizes that condition in life will change whether they like it or not had taken over me. My journey began as I decided to enter college for the first time to get a degree to land a greater job to support my family. I hesitated at first, but did not refuse the call.

The crossing of my first threshold as described in the story a point where a person crosses the field of adventure, leaving the known and venturing into the unknown and dangerous realms was my first day in English class with 30 other students. The mental disorder's such as having me have problems being around other people creating anxieties was more of the challenge. However, I summoned forth-great powers from within my life in which my commitment formed the supernatural aid or guides and magical helpers as told in the story became known as they blessed me.

Classes and studies were great, only my dyslexia had me take longer to do my homework than most students. I was enjoying everyday of my life until the biggest episodes and waves of paranoia, delusion, hallucination, anxieties and panic attacks hit me like a ton of bricks. Either this was another separation to depart into a new journey or the road of trial in which in the story reveals it as my initiation, a series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that one must undergo to begin the transformation. Now I had the dilemma deciding to remain in college or not.

I perceived this event as my initiation, however due to my bad condition I had to leave school. This was my forth or fifth time in my life something like this occurred. Only this time is was worse. I was in my mid 30's and worried how I was to support my family financially. My financial aid ran out and I could not attend college anyway to get scholarships even though I had great grades. A male acquaintance or supposedly friend from college was constantly hitting on me even when I dropped out of school, which only added more fuel to the fire. In spite of all of this, I was gaining weight having me feel depressed and I was internally blaming my wife for not supporting me. For a while, I chose to be alone in my room where I engaged in developing a website to earn income, but that did not make me much money.

Wisdom coming from the supernatural aid spoken once again came in the form of having me remember lessons from a course I took. The course called The Psychology of the Brain led me to see a psychiatrist for diagnoses. Never been diagnosed before, the doctor presented me with having schizoaffective disorder since I was a child. This resulted in qualifying me to receive financial assistance for disability.

Being sick only poured out unconditional love from me towards my family so that no negativity from my symptoms would be experienced or leak in our environment. Somehow being self unified I believe I have met all the right people towards my success. Doctors to social service workers from personal care physician, psychiatry, to social security workers have been mainly women, and a few men who helped me along to achieve my journey to the freedom to live portrayed from the Hero's Journey.

My return is not complete or even half way in regards to my mental health, but the boon in which interpreted in the story as the achievement of the goal of the quest came in the form of the continuance of my degree, through Kaplan University. It happened inconspicuously by me filling out a survey online thinking it was part of a job application which in return an advisor called and since 2007 – 2009, I finally achieved my quest of graduating with an A.S. in Business Administration and Management. It was not easy though. The road to this boon followed many initiating episodes of bi-polar and schizophrenic trials and other health related issues. Through perseverance into the B.S. program however, helps me in the development of my psyche.

Some say that through my involvement of the many cults I practiced in front of my Buddhist alter, this cause had manifested the effects of this ailment and now I am cursed. Some say it is the chemical imbalance within my brain. Could it be that the spirits had evoked this imbalance? I say what does not kill me makes me stronger!


How the Myths of Mental Illness Derived

Although, mental illness is common, it is human nature to fear what we do not understand. That is why, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental illness feared by many people unfortunately still carries a stigma. They note that one of the effects of this stigma prevents those with mental illness to receive treatment while another is the way those with mental illness are treated, which is more destructive, then their illness itself. Because of the stigmas implanted in our society by sources that will be discussed shortly, not only do people have a problem with the mentally ill, those who are ill themselves have problems healing (Canadian Mental Health Association, 1993).

George Gerbner, founder of the Cultural Environment Movement, a researcher who has a 30-year career of monitoring the cultural impact of television on society states that, "Television is the wholesale distributor of the stigma of mental illness”.  He also states, '"Characters portrayed on television as having mental illnesses have four times the violence rate and six times the victimization rate of other characters" (SAMHSA'S, n.d.).

 In the late 1980s, Steven E. Hyler and his colleagues of Columbia University recognized psychiatric characters in six categories in films. They were homicidal maniacs, narcissistic parasites, seductresses, enlightened members of society, rebellious free spirits, and zoo specimen. They concluded that negative stereotypes had a damaging effect on the viewing public and on the patients themselves, their family members, and policy makers (SAMHSA'S, n.d.).

There can be no doubt that Hollywood and the media is responsible for these stereotyping. It is proven that more than 150 films in Hollywood in the years of 1985 to 1995 portrayed characters having mental illnesses as killers and villains (SAMHSA'S, n.d.).

 Studies show from the year 2000, that 70% of major characters with mental illness in prime time television dramas portray them violent and more than one fifth as killers. Newspaper depiction of individuals with mental illnesses are shown to be psychotic, unemployed, transient, and dangerous-not as happy, productive members of a family or community according to Ms. Arnold from the National Stigma Clearinghouse (Sampson, n.d.).

Stereotypes and Myths of Mental Illness Persist Today

As you can see, the myths and stereotypes of mental illness derive from many angles of the media. One could come to his or her conclusion that the many perception and attitudes that exist in the minds of the people in society still brings them fear or have them look down upon those with mental illness today. From my experiences and the ill feelings that I received from society such as neighbors, workers, family members, and students I went to school with; it serves me great pleasure to mention some of the stereotypes and myths backed up by facts and truth that are common in which persist within  modern culture.

The most common stereotype proclaim by many is that people with mental illness are violent and dangerous. The truth is as groups compared to other group's mentally ill people are no more violent.  In fact, normally they like being alone and not harm others. They are far more likely to be the victims of violence than to be violent themselves (Canadian Mental Health Association, 1993; World Health Organization, 2006).

Another common stereotype proclaims people with mental illness are poor and or less intelligent. However, many studies show that most mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income level, and according to studies mentally ill people have average or above-average intelligence (Canadian Mental Health Association, 1993).

A mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness, and it has nothing to do with being weak or lacking will power. Therefore, the myth that mental illness is a personal weakness is not true. People with mental illness are not lazy because they cannot just “snap out of it. They did not choose to become ill. In return, they can play a big part in their own recovery (Canadian Mental Health Association, 1993).

Finally, a stereotype that is also common among society is that mental illness is a single rare disorder.  In fact, mental illness broadly classifies itself as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and organic brain disorders that can cause misery, tears and missed opportunities (Canadian Mental Health Association, 1993).

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. The 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, translates to 57.7 million people. These statistics show that stereotyping people with mental illness and holding stigmas toward them still persist today (National Institutes of Mental Health, 2009).


Dispelling the Myth and Making it Possible

There are a few techniques, methods, and strategies that everyone may teach, use, and learn about changing the way we view people with mental illness. A new technique and method in which I found fascinating came from an organization called the Canadian Mental Health Association. They teach that through first recognizing the problem that exhibits a stigma towards people with mental illness you should use the method of applying four letters, S.T.O.P.

 The CMHA says, just keep asking yourself if what you hear, Stereotypes people with mental illness. Ask yourself if what you hear Trivializes or belittles people with mental illness or the illness itself? You should continue to ask yourself if what you hear, Offends people with mental illness by insulting them, and  lastly you should ask yourself if what you hear, Patronizes people with mental illness by treating them as if they were not as good as other people?

What you can do if you see or hear something that does not pass the S.T.O.P. criteria in the media you can call or write to the writer or publisher of the newspaper, magazine or book or the radio, TV or movie producer or the advertiser who used words, which add to the misunderstanding of mental illness and educate them. If you heard it from an individual, teach them, tell them what you know about the illness, and rectify the misconception. One must speak up!

In addition, further strategies in which try's to dispel the stigma and stereotyping of mental illness are through health centers, organizations, and clinics who supply educational published materials to families, patients, and the public throughout the nation.

Attacking the heart of stereotyping is showing examples like movies such as "The Soloist", who depicts a person with compassion and mercy that helps a person with mental illness, bring out his highest potential. The media who affects people on a larger scale can show the truth about mental illness.

Although, it is very possible through the efforts of each individual on earth to learn and educate himself or herself to dispel the stereotypes of mental illness, however, it is not just learning the truth about mental illness concerning others; it is also to learn it for oneself as well. The reason for learning about the truth for one is that one may not be aware that they may have acquired the disease of mental illness themselves and those who do know may receive treatment.

On the contrary, it is up to the individual with mental illness to make the choice and take the action to want to take the steps necessary to help themselves overcome their illness and renew their health. Otherwise, if they continue to remain to live with their symptoms the stigma, stereotypes, and myths about mental illness will not go away.












612Canadian Mental Health Association (1993). The Myths of Mental Illness. Retrieved November 19, 2009, from

614Journal of Transpersonal Psychology (1985). Case Example: Full Myths in Mental Illness Case. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from

611Milum, L. (2003). The Hero's Journey. Retrieved November 19, 2009, from

619National Institutes of Mental Health (2009, August 10). The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. Retrieved November 21, 2009, from

615SAMHSA'S (n.d.). Consumer/Survivor Information

Challenging Stereotypes: An Action Guide. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from

617Sampson, S., M.A. (n.d.). Countering the Stigma of Mental Illnesses. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from

616World Health Organization (2006, August 18). Myths and Misconceptions about Schizophrenia. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from




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