Schizophrenia–a disorder marked by hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized speech and behavior– has a prevalence of about 1 in 100 people. Many of us are more likely to have heard about or seen a portrayal of schizophrenia in the media than know someone who has actually been diagnosed with the disorder. It’s no wonder that myths about schizophrenia are widespread and pervasive given the media’s inaccurate portrayal of people with schizophrenia as violent, unpredictable, and dysfunctional parts of society. These myths are not only false, but deeply stigmatizing to those with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Myth 1: People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities.
Schizophrenia is often most confused with having multiple personalities, an unrelated disorder called dissociative identity disorder. The confusion comes strictly from the name rather than similarities between the two disorders. Symptoms of schizophrenia can include hallucinations of any of the senses, delusions, lack of facial expressions or movement, and disorganized thinking and behavior. None of these symptoms involves separate personalities. Schizophrenia translates to “split mind” in New Latin. This refers to a split from reality rather than splits in identity.
Myth 2: People with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous.
Those diagnosed with schizophrenia are rarely violent. They are more likely experience harsh and degrading auditory hallucinations or delusions that make them wary of others. Rather than become violent, people with schizophrenia will withdraw and isolate themselves to feel safer. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to commit suicide or victimize themselves than harm another person. The idea that people with schizophrenia are dangerous perpetuates fear and stigma that prevents individuals from offering the help and support that those with the disorder may want and need.
Myth 3: People with schizophrenia have an untreatable disorder.
Presently, there is no cure for schizophrenia. However, antipsychotic medications and talk therapy have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms. Recent research has found cognitive behavioral therapy–often used to treat depression and anxiety disorders–has been helpful in managing the symptoms of schizophrenia. People who have been diagnosed with this disorder can in fact manage their illness by being educated on the disorder, looking for early warning signs of relapse, regularly taking medication, and reporting all side effects to doctors.
Myth 4: People with schizophrenia are completely dysfunctional and dependent.
It’s important exercise caution with how we define “dysfunctional and dependent.” All people–with or without diagnosable mental illness have different capabilities and may be more or less dependent or independent. It’s unfair to make general assumptions about people and label in black and white terms like “functional and dysfunctional” that can be mostly subjective. There are people diagnosed with schizophrenia who live independently and have a career. Others may need assistance from day programs or live in residential programs. Schizophrenia has a range of symptoms and those symptoms have a range of intensity. Symptoms may also not be present at all times. Like the three other myths listed here, this is an overgeneralization that creates and perpetuates stigma that is harmful to those most affected by this disorder.
Statistics and facts courtesy of Schizophrenia.com.
The Stone Foundation is a community of counseling professionals who are committed to helping you live your best life. If we can assist you in any way, please contact us at 410.296.2004 or visit www.thestonefoundation.com. Please know that this article is intended for general, educational purposes only. This article, and others like it, should not and are not meant to take the place of professional counseling services or medical care.
Lauren Greenberg, MS, LGPC is a graduate of Loyola’s Counseling Practitioner Program. For three years, Lauren provided hotline crisis intervention to residents of Baltimore City. She also has experience providing counseling to students at a local college for issues including grief and loss, depression, substance abuse, self-harm, anxiety, and trauma. Her professional interests and areas of study include positive psychology, promoting social and emotional competence, and women’s issues.