6 Most Misunderstood Mental Disorders You Should Know

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You’ve likely heard of conditions like Schizophrenia or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder before – perhaps you know someone diagnosed with one of these disorders. However, while the names of these disorders are common, there are many misconceptions about them that are harmful to the people dealing with them. To better understand what these disorders are, in this article, we’ll be looking at six of the most misunderstood disorders.

But First, What Is a Mental Disorder?

While we may have a preconceived notion on what a mental disorder is, it’s important to know what the true definition is. Mental disorders are classified as medical conditions that affect your moods, thoughts, and behaviors. Mental disorders vary from person to person and can last either short or long term (Medline Plus 2020). They also come with a variety of treatment options that differs between each person.

With that, here are six misunderstood mental disorders.

1. Schizophrenia

What it is not:

  • People who are prone to violence. This is extremely rare and usually related to a condition other than schizophrenia.
  • A condition that requires hospitalization. Schizophrenia varies from person to person meaning that hospitalization isn’t necessary in all cases.
  • You have multiple personalities. It’s a disorder that deals with psychosis, not multiple personalities.
  • It is untreatable. While difficult, it is possible to improve quality of life. In some it can be treated completely.

(Source: Psycom.net 2020)

What it is:

  • A psychotic disorder typically characterized by delusions and/or hallucinations.
  • Thought disorder. People with schizophrenia tend to think and act in a peculiar manner.
  • Difficulty functioning. Schizophrenia can make it hard to carry out day to day activities.
  • Complex. Schizophrenia has different types ranging from: paranoid, catatonic, disorganized, residual, or undifferentiated.

(Source: Watson 2014)

Schizophrenia is a widely misunderstood condition. Different ideas about the cause and symptoms creates confusion about what the disorder truly is. Some believe (falsely) that it is solely the result of bad parenting, or that people with the condition are less capable. In reality there are several causes such as drug abuse, trauma, or in some cases, genetics. Fortunately, there are also people with the disorder who have been highly successful in academic and artistic fields (Watson 2014).

2. Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

What it is not:

  • Like how it is portrayed in the movies. Much of what is portrayed in film related to DID is fictional.
  • The same as Schizophrenia. The two are fundamentally different.
  • A personality disorder. DID is not actually related to personality like one may believe.
  • Obvious. The disorder is usually extremely difficult to diagnose.

(Source: Hull 2020a)

What it is:

  • A dissociative disorder. Often as a subconscious coping mechanism to trauma.
  • At least two different mental states accompanied by significant changes in behavior, and memory.
  • Treatable. Treatment usually involves processe to cope with the traumatic events.

(Source: APA 2018)

While DID is sometimes portrayed as a normal person with a psychotic split personality, that is hardly the case. DID is most commonly a response to traumatic events in which the change in memory and behavior prevents access to those memories. People with the condition often have changes and lapses in memory, self-identity, and behavior that causes significant problems in everyday life (APA 2018).

3. Major Depressive Disorder

What it is not:

  • Simply feeling “blue.” It is a medical condition.
  • Laziness. There are physical differences in brain chemistry that effects executive functioning
  • Made up. There are chemical differences that are observable.
  • Normal. It is a condition that requires treatment for improvement. Treatment often improves quality of life.

(Source: Unity Point Health 2018)

What it is:

  • A persistent feeling of sadness, apathy, and hopelessness lasting longer than 2 weeks.
  • Unique from person to person in both symptoms and causes.
  • Common. Up to 16 million Americans with the disorder.

(Source: Unity Point Health 2018)

Depression, while a very common disorder, is one that is heavily misunderstood. Some people doubt its validity while others think it’s a normal part of life. Depression is an identifiable condition that requires treatment for improvement of symptoms (Unity Point Health 2018).

4. Bipolar

What it is not:

  • Just mood swings. The condition has significant impact on the patient’s daily functioning.
  • Mania is helpful. Mania has detrimental effects on the patient’s life, usually related to poor impulse control.
  • Black and white. Bipolar is more than mania and depression. There are mixed episodes, balanced moods, and/or hypo-mania.

(Source: Robinson 2019)

What it is:

  • Mood swings that severely impact functioning and quality of life lasting from days, months to years.
  • Complex. There’s biploar 1, bipolar 2, and cyclothymia among others.

(Source: NIMH 2020)

Bipolar is yet another condition highly misunderstood. Some believe that it is normal mood swings while others think that it’s crazy behavior. People with bipolar are normal people with a medical condition, just like any other. Treatment can greatly improve the quality of life for people with the condition (NIMH 2020).

5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What it is not:

  • Simply a need for organization. OCD is a compulsive disorder, not a personal preference.
  • A quirk. OCD can be highly distressing to the patient with it.
  • Something that can just “go away.” OCD requires treatment.

(Source: Ryback 2016)

What it is:

  • A culmination of obsessions and compulsions that impact a person’s function.
  • Highly distressing for those who cannot partake in their compulsory behavior.

OCD is far more than having a couple quirks. For the people with the condition, it is a constant battle of ruminating over certain ideas, beliefs, or fears that interfere with their ability to live a normal life. They usually partake in activities to give them peace of mind that can take over their day. Fortunately this condition has treatment options to improve quality of life (Ryback 2016).

6. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

What it is not:

  • Made up. Anxiety is a condition that has clear diagnosing criteria and can be physiologically observed.
  • Avoidable. While some aspects relating to anxiety can be avoided, many of them cannot.
  • Something that will “go away.” Like any condition, it requires treatment to improve.

(Source: Hull 2020b)

What it is:

  • Constant and intense feelings of worry that interfere with normal functioning.
  • Treatable. GAD and other types of anxiety disorders can be treated.
  • Exhausting for the people with the condition.

While anxiety is a normal emotion that comes in when we need it (fight or flight response), when someone experiences too much of it in situations that would normally be inappropriate, it can develop into a disorder. It is not something that someone can just “move past” or “get over,” rather it is a condition that requires treatment for improvement (Felman 2020).

Mental disorders come with all sorts of stigmatization, whether through media or misinformation through communication. These misleading ideas create harmful visualizations of what these conditions truly are making life even harder for those with them. The biggest takeaway is that mental health conditions are real, and they are treatable. It takes getting in contact with the right mental health professional to start getting your life back on track. What are your thoughts about stigma and mental health? Can you think of any other misunderstood conditions? Are there misconceptions that we missed? Let us know in the comments!


  • American Psychiatric Association. (2018, August). What Are Dissociative Disorders? Web Starter Kit. www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders
  • Bennett, T. (2019, December 2). 6 Facts About Mental Illnesses That Are Largely Misunderstood. Counseling and Life Coaching – Find a Counselor. thriveworks.com/blog/6-facts-mental-illnesses-largely-misunderstood/
  • Felman, A. (2020, January 11). What to know about anxiety. MedicalNewsToday. www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454
  • Fields, L. (2003, February 7). Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). WebMD. www.webmd.com/mental-health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder#2
  • Gilbert, Z. (2017, October 5). Top 5 Misunderstood Mental Health Conditions. NAMI. namiccns.org/2017/10/05/top-5-misunderstood-mental-health-conditions/
  • Hull, M. (2020a, September 16). Dissociative Identity Disorder Myths. The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder/related/did-myths/
  • Hull, M. (2020b, October 21). Anxiety Myths. The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/anxiety/related/anxiety-myths/
  • National Institute of Mental Health. (2020, December 7). NIMH » Bipolar Disorder. NIMH. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml
  • Medline Plus. (2020, November 3). Mental Disorders. medlineplus.gov/mentaldisorders.html
  • Psycom.net. (2020, October 2). Six Common Myths and Misconceptions About Schizophrenia. Psycom.Net – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1996. www.psycom.net/schizophrenia/six-myths-about-schizophrenia/
  • Robinson, M. (2019, November 6). Please Stop Believing These 8 Harmful Bipolar Disorder Myths. Healthline. www.healthline.com/health/8-harmful-bipolar-disorder-myths-you-need-to-stop-believing#7.-Myth:-People-with-bipolar-disorder-are-always-either-manic-or-depressed.-
  • Ryback, R. (2016, May 9). 4 Myths About OCD. PsychologyToday. www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201605/4-myths-about-ocd
  • The National Institute of Mental Health. (2020, December 7). NIMH » Schizophrenia. NIMH. www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml
  • Unity Point Health. (2018, June 18). 10 Common Myths & Misconceptions About Depression | UnityPoint Health – Des Moines. www.unitypoint.org/desmoines/article.aspx?id=a655c7e2-fe37-4817-887b-c762ff455b23
  • Watson, S. (2014, March 27). 9 Schizophrenia Myths and Facts. WebMD. www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-myths-and-facts#2

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