Myths & Causes

What is it?
Mental Illness includes a broad range of psychological or behavioural symptoms, which cause difficulties with an individual’s mental and emotional well-being, thereby reducing his or her capacity to cope with the demands and stress of daily life.

It is human nature to fear what we don’t understand. Since many people don’t understand mental illness, they fear it. Mental illness also carries a stigma (a mark or sign of disgrace), and that stigma prevents a significant number of people from seeking help. People use stigmatizing words like “cuckoo,” “psycho,” “wacko” and “nutso.” Just as we wouldn’t mock someone for having a physical illness, we should not mock someone with a mental illness. The following are examples of some myths and facts:

Myth: Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness.
A mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness having nothing to do with weakness or lack of will-power. People do not choose to become ill.

Myth: Those with a mental illness are violent.

Fact: Those with a mental illness are more often the victims of violence.

Myth: Schizophrenia is split-personality.

Fact: A person with Schizophrenia may have audible hallucinations such as “voices” talking to the individual.

Myth: A person with Depression can just “snap out of it”

Fact: Until the brain chemicals have been balanced or the precipitating factor has been resolved the individual will most likely continue to have the symptoms

Myth: You can’t recover from a mental illness

Fact: With proper treatment and support you can recover from a mental illness

Some information from “The Myths of Mental Illness,” CMHA National pamphlet series

There are thought to be three causes of mental illness:
1.    Genetic/Biological/Chemical
2.    Psychological
3.    Socio-cultural/Stressful life events or conditions


  • A malfunctioning brain is the primary cause of abnormal behaviour
  • Chemicals called neurotransmitters, responsible for moving information through the brain, have been shown, in some research, to display abnormal activity in the brains of those with mental disorders, i.e., Anxiety disorders are linked to low activity of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), Schizophrenia linked to excessive activity of dopamine and Depression linked to low activity of serotonin
  • Some mental disorders are genetically inherited: in recent years, researchers have discovered that genes may also influence behaviour, including abnormal behaviour.
  • Genetic factors have been linked to mood disorders, schizophrenia, mental retardation, Alzheimer’s and other disorders of the mind.
  • Risk factor for depression increases by 25% if parent has illness; risk factor for schizophrenia increases by 8% if a sibling has schizophrenia, 12% if one parent has schizophrenia, and by 37-46% if both parents have schizophrenia (CMHA/Toronto)


  • Low self esteem and/or pessimism can lead to depression.

Socio-cultural/Stressful life events or conditions

  • Some socio-cultural theorists focus on the family system, believing that a family’s structure or communication patterns may force members to behave in abnormal ways. Others focus on social networks and support (i.e., family, friends, caregivers, issues of divorce/separation, bereavement, immigration), and still others examine societal conditions (i.e., poverty, abuse, lack of education, long-term unemployment

Statistics for Kenora Rainy River Region
How many people are affected by mental illness?

Mental illness is increasingly recognized as a serious and growing problem. It is estimated that 1 in 5 Canadians, close to six million, will develop a mental illness at some time in their lives. Many more individuals such as family, friends and colleagues are also affected.

We can say for sure that at least one percent of a population is likely to have a serious and persistent mental illness at any given time. This is equal to about 300,000 Canadians at any given time. The rates of mental illness vary from one illness to another. For example, it is estimated that:

  • schizophrenia affects about 1% of Canadians,
  • mood disorders affect about 10%, and
  • anxiety disorders affect about 12%
  • 1,500 Fort Frances residents – (a 6th of the population) -- could experience one or more mental disorders over their lifetime*
  • At least 1% - 900 people in Fort Frances - could experience a serious and persistent mental illness at any one time*
  • 85% of people with a serious mental illness are unemployed and many lack safe, affordable housing******
  • 18% of children, 1-17 yr. suffer from a diagnosable psychiatric illness**
  • The economic cost of mental illness in Canada was estimated at $7.9 billion in 1998 -- $4.7 billion in care and $3.2 billion in early death****

* 1990 Ontario Health Survey
** Region of Peel web site
**** The Report on Mental Illness in Canada, 2002
******The Portraits of Peel: Face the Facts