Myths About Mind and Mood Revealed

What's your mental health IQ? Find out now!

ByLauren Cahoon<br>abc News Medical Unit

March 6, 2008 &#151; -- For some people, the idea of a mind or mood disorder conjures up visions of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" -- odd characters talking to themselves or spontaneously shouting out nonsense.

The reality is, mind and mood disorders are no different from any physical health problem. They are real, they are treatable and ordinary people can suffer from them.

Hundreds of expert answers to common questions on mind and mood can be found at the ABC News OnCall+ Mind and Mood section, here.

"While we don't always feel comfortable talking about the subject, mind and mood disorders are very common in the U.S.," said ABC News medical editor Dr. Tim Johnson.

Currently in the United States, about one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mind or mood disorder each year. In fact, 14.8 million American adults suffer from depression and 5.7 million suffer from bipolar disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Despite the fact that mind and mood disorders are a timeless and widespread problem, stigma and misunderstanding still surround the conditions.

Johnson discussed some common misconceptions and myths on mind and mood disorders on ABC's "Good Morning America" today.

To help contribute to the growing understanding and awareness of mental illness, make sure you know what's true and what's not when it comes to your mind and mood.

Fact or Myth? "I'm in my twenties -- I don't have to worry about getting depression until later in life."

Answer: Myth

Actually, those who are in early adulthood do need to watch out for depression.

"The age of first onset of depression is far younger than we used to believe," said Myrna Weissman, a psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and a participant in the OnCall+ Depression resource section of

"Major depression has the highest risk of developing between the ages of 15 and 34," Weissman said.

This finding goes against the common school of thought -- that middle-age adults and women going through menopause are most at risk of developing the disease.

However, several large-scale studies found that the most common period of life for depression to develop was the beginning of adulthood, not the middle of it.

Weissman noted that depression can still set in at any age, however.

"There are some people who first get depressed when they're elderly, and they have no history of depression," she said. "And oftentimes there is some other underlying biological cause of that."

In general. people of every age should look out for the tell-tale signs of depression -- ongoing sadness and anxiety, changes in sleep and eating habits -- and seek out professional help.

Fact or Myth? Bullying increases a child's risk of depression.

Answer: Fact

"Bullying is a form of early life trauma," said Charles Nemeroff, a psychiatrist at Emory University and expert for the ABC News OnCall+ Depression section.

While bullying has long been viewed as an inevitable trial of childhood, it can pose significant harm to children who are on the receiving end.

"Bullying not only increases risk for psychiatric disorders including depression in adulthood," said Nemeroff, "but also clearly increases risk for suicide."

In one study of New York state high school students, 9 percent of the students surveyed reported that they were victimized frequently, and the National Institutes of Health reported that bullying affects more than 5 million students in grades six to 11, with one out of seven students reporting being victimized.

Because bullying is such a widespread and potentially harmful behavior, parents should look out for bullying problems and be quick to intervene.

Fact or Myth? Babies born in the winter are more likely to have bipolar disorder.

Answer: Possibly a fact

Although this may sound like an old wives' tale, there may be some truth to the idea that the season in which a child is born contributes to his or her mental health.

"There have been some reports that adults with bipolar disorder are more likely to have been born in the winter than in the summer, spring or fall months," said Kiki Chang, director of the Pediatric Bipolar Disorders program at Stanford and an expert for ABC News' OnCall+ Bipolar Disorder section.

According to current theories, a type of virus triggers the disorder in people who already have a genetic predisposition toward bipolar disorder. People are more likely to contract the virus during the winter months -- and thus, more winter babies end up with bipolar disorder. Similar research on schizophrenia has also cropped up.

"However one has to be careful when interpreting that kind of data," Chang said. "It doesn't mean that if you were born in the winter you're more likely to develop bipolar disorder. ... The risk that you have by being born in the winter does not increase it greatly enough to be clinically significant."

Fact or Myth? Shock treatment is an outdated and barbaric treatment for mood disorders.

Answer: Myth

Shock treatment -- also known as electroconvulsive therapy -- might evoke horrific scenes from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but the reality is quite different.

"Electroconvulsive therapy has been around since the 1930s and is one of our oldest treatments for depression," said William McDonald, a psychiatrist with the Emory Clinic and participant in ABC News' OnCall+ Depression section.

"And the reasons it's lasted this long is that it's one of the most effective treatments for depression -- particularly for people with depression that haven't responded to the typical medications," McDonald said.

The treatment functions by stimulating the brain to release the same types of transmitters that are released by antidepressant medication. The difference is that electroconvulsive therapy works faster -- a patient can get well in a week rather than the six to eight weeks it would take for medication to take effect.

"Electroconvulsive therapy is also used [on] patients who have tried multiple different medications and not responded very well," McDonald said. He also noted that the therapy can be used for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

While it sounds like this therapy would do a number on your brain, "no study to my knowledge has ever shown that you can get permanent brain damage from this treatment if it's used safely," said McDonald.

The biggest side effect is short-term memory loss and doctors will adjust the treatment to deal with that problem, if it happens.

Fact or Myth? The richer you are, the more likely you are to become bipolar.

Answer: Myth

At one point, bipolar disorder seemed to be a disease of the rich and well-to-do; wealthy people were diagnosed with it much more frequently.

As it turns out, more dollars in the bank will not directly give you a mood disorder.

"[It's] likely an artifact of individuals with ... greater economic resources being able to obtain appropriate psychiatric diagnosis and treatment," said William Gilmer, a psychiatrist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital and expert featured on ABC News' OnCall+ Bipolar Disorder resource site.

Gilmer said that poorer people just can't afford to get the right treatment -- and are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

Frequently, these undiagnosed or misdiagnosed people end up being incarcerated due to their untreated behavior, whereas a wealthy person with the same condition would get appropriate treatment.

Fact or Myth? If I treat my bipolar disorder, I will lose my creativity.

Answer: Myth

While there is an association between artistic careers and bipolar disorder, it doesn't mean that the condition is the wellspring of creativity.

"While artists may be more likely to suffer from bipolar illness than perhaps certain other groups," Gilmer said, "it could be because the illness in and of itself leads individuals to select work environments [that are] more tolerant of the erratic behaviors or the inconsistency that can go along with the illness."

Gilmer also pointed out that the disorder can harm a person's career potential -- scores of people have lost opportunities and jobs because of the disruptive symptoms of their illness.

"I think the danger is to romanticize a possible association of bipolar illness and creativity," Gilmer said. "In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that treating bipolar illness in no way decreases a person's creative productivity, and in fact will enhance or may increase their productivity."

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