Similar to the firearms myths perpetuated by television and movies, beliefs surrounding mental health can add to the stigma that prevents some from seeking help. It’s important to open up the discourse around mental illness, especially as May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Training to protect our loved ones should include an aspect of understanding potential psychological struggles. Though physical threats are easier to address, the support we can offer friends and family on their journeys to mental well-being is equally important. As a starting point, we can understand the facts and cut through the interference. Here are six mental health myths that persist in our culture.

Myth 1: Mental Illnesses Are Uncommon

In fact, one in five American adults experiences a mental health issue every year. It’s easy to think mental health problems “don’t affect me,” if you’re not the one seeking help. But many are impacted indirectly. This may be simply offering comfort when we see a coworker struggling at a tough time or helping a family member who needs extra support at home.

Myth 2: Mental Health Problems Are a Sign of Weakness.

This is as true as saying a broken leg is a sign of weakness. We have very little control over breaking a bone. Much the same, mental distress is not a sign of poor character, fragility, low intelligence or a lack of willpower. The most common conditions include anxiety and depression. Experience anxiety or depression can be due to myriad factors, including biological make-up, life experiences (trauma) and/or having a family history of mental illness.

Myth 3: Mental Illness Is Permanent/There Is No Hope

We come equipped with unique biological wiring. Therefore, each person’s experience with illness is different. Many people improve and reach remission of their symptoms through the course of a wide variety of treatments such as counseling, medication and lifestyle improvements. Encouraging a friend or family member to seek treatment helps decrease the stigma associated with their illness and can make him or her more comfortable talking about experienced struggles with you.

Myth 4: People With Mental Health Problems Are Violent and Unpredictable

People with mental health problems are no more violent than anyone else. People living with mental illness are actually more likely to be the victim of a violent crime. Of violent acts, less than 5% are committed by someone living with a mental illness.

Myth 5: Mental Health Conditions Cannot Be Prevented

Many factors go into developing a mental health condition: our biology, family history and predispositions. Life experiences, as well as conditions at work and home, can factor into the development of mental health conditions. As so many factors contribute to mental well-being, some can also decrease the likelihood of developing mental illness. These would include protective factors such as strong supportive relationships, having positive beliefs about self, and healthy work and home environments. Some of the top skills for building resilience include trying new experiences, engaging in enjoyable activities, supporting or helping others, and thinking about yourself in a kind way.

Myth 6: Seeking Help for Mental Health Can Lead to Gun Confiscation

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protects gun owners from having their guns taken away. This federal law requires therapists are required to provide confidential treatment. They cannot share details of your treatment with anyone without your written permission. The exception to this rule is if the provider is concerned for your safety. Although having thoughts about suicide or homicide are serious, there are varying levels of acuteness. A skilled therapist will distinguish the difference. The default is always to protect the client’s right of privacy. If you question this, I encourage you to have a frank conversation with your provider ahead of time.

To combat the stigma surrounding mental illness, we must first recognize and separate these fictions from facts. Discussing mental health more openly and in a welcoming manner can encourage others to speak up. It takes more strength to ask for help than to suffer in silence. Oftentimes those who seek counseling for mental health needs see improvements in the quality of their life and relationships due to the insights learned. If you or someone you know is in need of mental health services, please contact your doctor or local health and human services department for assistance getting connected to resources.