Mental Health: Fact or Fiction?

Childhood and adolescence can be challenging, especially when children are feeling down, have a hard time paying attention or face difficulties at home or school. If these things are not talked about or treated, children can develop low self-esteem, perform poorly at school, have trouble with relationships or struggle to reach their potential.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, Children’s of Alabama counselors and psychologists came together to share facts and dispel myths about children’s mental health, so parents feel more equipped when talking about these topics.

Keep reading to learn if popular statements about mental health are fact or fiction.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • OCD is just being a neat freak – Fiction
    • OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by obsessive, intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. These thoughts and behaviors get in the way of performing typical and necessary day-to-day activities.

  • Everyone has a little bit of OCD – Fiction
    • While many people have quirks or preferences for how things should be done, OCD involves distressing and time-consuming obsessions and compulsions. Typically, there is a sense of dread or unrealistic beliefs that go along with the behaviors.

  • People with OCD can just stop doing their compulsions – Fiction
    • OCD is often a chronic condition that requires ongoing treatment and management. Consult with a physician, psychologist, or therapist for help getting started.


  • A depressed mood is required for a diagnosis of depression – Fiction
    • While many people with a diagnosis of depression have a depressed mood, it is not required. Instead, some individuals lose interest or pleasure in things they typically enjoy. Often, children will be more irritable rather than sad or depressed.

  • Physical symptoms like headaches, weight change, aches and pains can be a sign of depression – Fact
    • Depression may not only include problems with mood and thinking, but also physical symptoms. Changes in sleep or appetite are quite common. Problems with digestion, muscle aches and back pain may also occur.

  • All teenagers become depressed at some point – Fiction
    • While it’s true that adolescence can be a difficult time, most teenagers will only experience short episodes of sadness that resolve with support from family and friends. When an adult notices a significant change in a teen’s mood, behavior or habits, it’s important to talk with them and their pediatrician about the changes and if professional help is needed.

  •  Depression can appear to happen “out of the blue,” without something bad happening – Fact
    • Difficult life events can cause depression. However, there are other factors that can contribute to depression as well such as genetic, environmental and psychological factors like family history, serious illness like heart disease, side effects of medications or the result of drug or alcohol abuse.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

  • ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder seen in childhood – Fact
    • A neurodevelopmental disorder is a disorder that affects behavior, memory, motor skills or the ability to learn. An estimated 5% of children are affected by ADHD.

  • Kids with ADHD can’t pay attention for long – Fiction
    • Kids with ADHD can pay attention, but they have difficulty directing attention to activities that do not hold great interest such as things that are boring or unmotivating. However, they can pay attention to activities that are rewarding, engaging and interesting to them.

  • I have told my child with ADHD not to do something, so when they keep doing it, it is because they are being defiant – Fiction
    • Children with ADHD have difficulty stopping and thinking about things before they act.  Frequently, behaviors in children with ADHD that look like they are “purposeful” really are not, and in fact, are related to their ADHD.

  •  ADHD can’t be cured – Fact
    • ADHD can’t be cured, but it is a highly treatable. About two out of five children with ADHD continue to experience symptoms as teens. While there is not an absolute cure for ADHD, most individuals can manage symptoms with a combination of behavioral and environmental and sometimes medication support. Sometimes the symptoms can become milder with age. An adult can “grow into” the disorder, choosing employment and social interactions that are complimented by the childhood challenges associated with ADHD.

Contributed by Nashedra Barry, Ph.D, Kathryn Phillips, Ph.D. Paul Tierney, LPC-S, Wayne Fleisig, Ph.D, Kristen Smith, and Debra Patterson, Ph.D.

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