Can Mental Illness Be Contagious? Experts Have the Answer
Are mental health conditions contagious? A new study suggests that most people believe so, with most of the participants admitting to thinking that after interacting with an individual battling mental illness, their specific condition rubbed off on them.
The notorious conditions where this school of thought is concerned included schizophrenia, anorexia, alcohol abuse, and anxiety disorder, according to the study.
Setting the Record Straight
However, mental health experts have come out clearly to set the record straight. As they put it, mental illness is not contagious, going on to explain why most of us think that we could catch it just as we would a cold.
They say that when people spend a lot of time around each other, they tend to pick up some habits and emotions from each other. As such, if the friend you hang out with the most suffers from anxiety, you could start noticing some changes in your mood when faced with a somewhat tricky situation.
This, however, does not mean that you now have an anxiety disorder. Dr. Judy Ho, a Southern California-based forensic psychologist says that human emotions are what is contagious, and not the mental illness.
As we all know, human beings are social. In being so, we respond to our immediate environment in certain ways, with emotions being a critical part of that reaction.
Dr. Ho goes on to say that we express similar emotions to those of people around us because their feelings cue us to view the situation as they do.
Thinking about it, this phenomenon happens to each and everyone of us. Haven’t you been in a room where everyone is sad and you start feeling their sadness engulf you? It’s only human.
Expounding more on this, Dr. Gail Saltz, a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell says that exhibiting reactions similar to those living with mental illness is entirely normal, and that it is impossible to transmit mental illness from a patient to the other.
The professor says that mental health conditions do not come as a result of an ineffective etiological agent such a bacteria or virus, and as such, there’s nothing to transmit.
Mental Illness is Complicated
Back to Dr. Ho, she says that mental illness is much more complicated than simply catching a pathogen. It presents itself thanks to a combination of environmental and genetic/biological factors.
The genetic link, as the forensic psychologist explains, is evident in the fact that most people living with mental health conditions have blood relatives battling mental illness too.
As for environmental factors, Dr. Ho cites childhood trauma and abuse, as well as exposure to toxins and other negative conditions before birth.
If the thought of developing a mental health condition is giving you sleepless nights, then stop looking for answers in the people you spend your days with. Instead, take a look at your family history, and you might learn a thing or two about how likely you are to become mentally ill.
But if you feel as though you’re really, really affected, a sit down with a therapist will clear the air for you. The professional will distinguish between an emotional reaction and a real mental health condition, and then advise you on how to proceed.
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