Therapeutic Scams: What is Fake Mental Health Help?

There are always possible scams in any field of work. Mental Health work is no exception, even though the thought of scamming those seeking help in desperate times is deplorable. There are some total outright scams in the mental health world that are even harmful, there are some things that are built on a preexisting idea but consciously changed to be ineffective, and then there are things that truly do have some value but the claims being made are exaggerations and sometimes just silly. Let’s take a look at some of the things that I have heard about/encountered in the world of mental health that I can confidently say are either downright scams or have been used to overstate their impact on people.

*Disclaimer: There are an uncountable amount of ways people find help for their mental health, and if something has helped you, there is no reason to think it is a scam even if it seems to be unhelpful to others. The brain is the most complicated thing in the known universe, and there are likely more unknown treatments for mental health issues currently than known ones. This blog will look towards the proposed solutions to mental health issues that have already demonstrated over time their ineffectiveness.

Beware the “It’s not depression/anxiety, it’s a lack of a vitamin/mineral/juice” claims

Vitamin D has been scientifically documented to impact people’s mood. A severe lack of vitamin D has been linked to depression. If you walk down a health food store or even a regular grocery store’s pharmacy isle, you will see vitamin D supplements make mention of treating depression. Here is our first example of a claim having a foundation in truth but being oversimplified so much it becomes a borderline scam claim. A person severely deficient in vitamin D can see great improvements in their mental health by fixing that issue, but most people with depression will find vitamin D not to be the cure for their problems. I have heard of people getting their blood work done by medical providers, finding they have normal vitamin D levels, but taking large amounts anyway due to the internet or other sources claiming it will ward off depressive symptoms. If you are experiencing depression, the cause is most likely multifactored and very treatable through either medications, therapy, or both, but large doses of vitamin D for the average person is not the solution. Vitamin D may help some people with a larger deficiency issue, but no one with depression should assume that vitamin D supplements or treatments will be their “cure” for depression.

One of the most bizarre claims I have come across in looking into mental health treatments was a claim by an author of a particular self-help book that the source of anxiety, depression, and even Bipolar Disorder, was often dehydration. Technically, I suppose being chronically dehydrated could cause a host of issues both mentally and physically, but this claim is an example of an outright lie that was being used to scam people into purchasing a book that outlines a “rehydration program”. While we should all remain hydrated (particularly in Florida), you can be assured that a bout of depression or panic attacks are not calls from your body that your cells need water. This is where the harm of scams can come in, and while water likely won’t hurt anyone, they may spend time and effort expecting this to relieve their mental health woes and not seek proper treatment.

Real helpful tools, ridiculous claims

The most upsetting form of scams or deception in the mental health world in my opinion is when a tested and proven tool that helps people is taken and claims about it are made that are simply untrue. This is the most likely form of deception you will encounter when researching mental health care. Whether it be a pill, juice, technique, or program, there are so many that will state things like “depression cure” or “eliminate anxiety” with these “simple” things. In fact, some of the most effective things we have in the mental health world have been hijacked by some people to make profits by making them see like cure-alls that have been hidden in plain sight.

You don’t have to look far online to find testimonials stating that exercise cured their depression/anxiety. Exercise is in fact a proven way to reduce these symptoms in many people, and there have been massive improvements in mood for a lot of people by adding regular exercise to their habits. However, many websites will make claims that their particular exercise regiment will not only provide you these massive benefits, but will outright eliminate any depression or anxiety problems you may have. Be assured, mental health problems are complicated and it is not going to be one behavioral change that totally fixes the problems that our minds deal with, let alone make us immune to any further problems in the future. These claims can also have problems in that those with disabilities or chronic pain see them as cures they cannot have access to, and therefore they may lose hope that they will ever feel better. I have personally met with clients who had read/been told that due to their inability to do rigorous exercise they were going to struggle to ever get out of their depressive episodes. This is not true, as exercise is one of the uncountable tools that can help someone, and if it is not possible for someone there are plenty of other things that are.

Even things as far from damaging as possible, like meditation and yoga have been coopted by some less than truthful individuals to become borderline scams. Any particular yoga studio is not going to be making any ridiculous claims, but I have encountered individuals who will make claims as far as yoga can cure schizophrenia. Yoga, like exercise, is scientifically proven to benefit many people psychologically. However, there is not a shred of evidence that severe and persistent mental health disorders will be eliminated by the use of yoga techniques. Meditation as well has had its outrageous claims over the years. I remember in one case in my graduate studies where another student shared with us that they attended a meditation class weekly led by a Buddhist monk who stated that depression was caused by incorrect breathing rhythms that were fixed by meditation practices. Again, breathing techniques are a real tool for helping people in many ways, but you can be assured that neither your own nor anyone else’s depressive thought patterns are a consequence of not breathing in a certain rhythm. Should you avoid meditation? Absolutely not! It can help in many ways and may be a major cause of improvement in like. Simply be careful not to set an expectation that learning to meditate will eliminate all of your mental health issues, and instead see it as part of a more whole plan to improve your life.

If you would like to learn more about the many tools that improve mental health without risking being fooled by dishonest claims, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


LECS Counselor