Dr. Aruna Tummala, a board-certified psychiatrist, breaks down some common and harmful misconceptions about mental illness and how to treat it.

Myth 1: Mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Fact 1: This is the most common myth about the roots of mental illness and is most likely perpetuated by Big Pharma. In fact, mental illness is a breakdown in the larger physiological functioning within a person. In other words, it is a “hardware” failure of the body (aka the mind-body-spirit system) that manifests in the “software” of our systems as mental illness.

Myth 2: Mental illness is lifelong.

Fact 2: This is a blatant falsehood. No one needs to think their mental illness can’t be treated – the key is to find and resolve the root cause. As one of my patients noted, “I feel empowered and no longer a ‘victim’ of a faulty chemical imbalance in my brain. I now know that the solution to my ailments is bringing my mind, body, and spirit back into balance. I feel a bit like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz when Glinda The Good Witch tells her ‘You always had the power, you just had to learn it for yourself.’”

Myth 3: Mental illness cannot be cured, just managed with medications and therapy.

Fact 3: See fact 2 above. 😊 The same can be said for anyone receiving traditional care in the “sick care system” we know as mainstream medicine.

Myth 4: Psychiatric medications are lifesavers.

Fact 4: They are as much of a lifesaver as a BandAid is to a fracture! Or, for that matter, an antacid for acid reflux!! (Yep, this can be a post in itself. 😊) Psych meds can lead to symptomatic improvements in the short term, but invariably they cause further deterioration in the root causes, which are never addressed. In addition, most psychiatric medications cause dependence that is very hard to overcome without holistic treatment. Long-term studies for things like depression, schizophrenia, or ADHD, which are typically not funded by industry, have consistently shown short-term gains but long-term harms, including more severe episodes and more risk for permanent disability.

Myth 5: Antidepressants are safe and do not increase the risk of suicide or self-harm.

Fact 5: This is another blatant falsehood. Antidepressants are neither safe nor effective. Population-based studies have repeatedly shown that they carry the risk of impulsivity, especially when attempting rapid dose changes, titrations, withdrawals, or switching from one med to another. Patients can experience severe forms of adverse reactions, like akathisia, which can lead to suicidality, homicidality, and such. Here’s a link to my Substack article on this subject:

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Myth 6: Psychiatric meds like antidepressants do not cause dependence. You can come off them when you are ready.

Fact 6: I give this myth a ‘Pinocchio rating’ of 10 out of 10. All the psychiatric meds currently being used (antidepressants, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, stimulants, etc.) cause dependence at the nervous system level. Most people are unable to come off these meds, even when they become well. For a long time, Big Pharma blamed the withdrawal symptoms on the patients as “discontinuation syndrome” and urged doctors and patients to never stop taking them (a perfect revenue generation model, eh?). But journalists like Robert Whitaker (Anatomy of an Epidemic) and physician researchers like Dr. David Healy, Dr. Peter Breggin, Dr. Peter Gøtzsche, Dr. Joanna Moncrieff and I have raised the alarm about this serious issue and tried to educate the public. At my practice, we know how to safely help patients come off medications that they do not need or that are causing them harm.

Myth 7: Psychiatric medications are safe to use in children.

Fact 7: There are no long-term studies that have looked at the effects of psychiatric meds on the developing brains of children. What we see is the same scenario as in adults. Psychiatric meds do not help and carry the risk of significant harm.

Myth 8: We have made many advances in the field of neuroscience and mental illness is still a mystery.

Fact 8: It can only be considered a mystery because we are barking up the wrong tree – believing that mental illness is just a disease of the brain. It is a disease of the whole mind-body-spirit system. When we address the root causes in the gut-brain axis, in the immune system, in the hormonal system, and so on, we can offer meaningful pathways toward recovery. The causes of mental illnesses, or for that matter any illness, are not a mystery. As I explain in my soon-to-be-published book, the three main root causes are 1) bad diet, 2) trauma or stress in life, and 3) toxins in our environment.

Myth 9: Antidepressants are relatively safe during pregnancy. At the very least, it is better for mom and infant to be on an antidepressant than to be depressed.

Fact 9: Studies have consistently shown that antidepressant exposure during pregnancy affects the neurodevelopmental trajectory of the developing baby and has been linked to conditions like autism, ADHD, anxiety, depression, etc., by the time the child is 8 years old. Paternal use of antidepressants around the time of conception is also linked to autism in the offspring.

Myth 10: Mental illness is genetic. Environment plays a minor role. And besides gene therapy, which is in its infancy, nothing much can be done.

Myth 10: If the environment is not to blame, how come we are seeing a tremendous increase in rates of all mental illnesses over the last few decades? Do genes change so quickly, within a matter of decades? No, they do not. In fact, gene defects account for only a small percentage of mental illnesses like autism, schizophrenia, bipolar, major depression, etc. Even here is the epigenetic effect – which is the complex interplay between environment and genes that decides how, when, and what genes are expressed. We are in constant “play” or “dance” with our environment. When genes are involved, the main genetic mechanism involves a group of genes known as methylation genes – MTHFR is the main one among them. Even here, the expression of these genes can be changed for the better with targeted nutritional supplements.

Myth 11: Modern science has progressed so much in the field of mental health, and we have transformed patients’ experiences for the better.

Fact 11: Cross-country studies consistently show more mental illness and higher rates of worse outcomes like suicide in countries where there is a high availability of psychiatrists, therapists, and mental health care systems. We need a better way.

Dr. Aruna Tummala, MD, ABIHM, is a board-certified adult/geriatric psychiatrist/integrative and holistic medicine doctor. She is the founder of Trinergy Health & Psychiatry 2.0 in WI, which offers holistic psychiatry.

This post was originally published at the author’s Substack and is reprinted here with permission.