For as prevalent as this unfortunate illness is throughout society, it is saddening to come across some of the myths about schizophrenia that are repeated quite frequently. That is why Schiz Life exists, to help educate people on the reality of the predicament.
Let’s make an attempt, then, to debunk some of these schizophrenia myths, uninformed assumptions, and false conclusions. The stigma is damaging and hurtful, so we have to clear this up. We’ll talk about as many of these silly ideas as we can think of, possibly adding more in the future as you guys point them out in the comments. So let’s get started!
Common Myths and the Facts About Schizophrenia
Myth: The first and most understandable myth surrounding this mental disorder is that schizophrenics have multiple personalities.
It’s understandable how people have come to this conclusion. The label schizophrenia itself means, “split mind.” It’s not too much of a logical leap to assume this means multiple personality disorder and the media doesn’t do too much to help dissolve this idea as they sensationalize with their movies and news.
The truth of the matter is that this has nothing to do with multiple or even split personalities. Schizophrenia is not a dissociative identity disorder. The term “split mind” is really just referring to the seemingly inappropriate reactions to stimuli and moments in life. There is a disconnect between cognition, emotion and behavior, and that is the split we are talking about.
Myth: The second most repeated schizophrenia myth is that we are violent or dangerous.
Again, how many thrillers and horror movies have the main antagonist as a schizophrenic villain? The media perpetuates these wrong ideas and it’s quite damaging to kind and peaceful people. It keeps the taboos against mental illness alive all in the name of making money. The fact is that people living with schizophrenia are no more dangerous than anyone else you might meet walking down the street, and maybe even less so.
Most schizophrenics tend to want to minimize interactions and stimuli that can become overbearing. This withdrawal most of the time means that they aren’t even around people often enough to be violent! It’s true that some people become suddenly overwhelmed and may have an outburst, but not the kind anyone would consider “violent.”
Another interesting tidbit is that schizophrenics themselves are more likely to be the victim to a violent crime than the general population! This myth is almost backwards. I must add that it is true that there is a higher suicide rate among schizophrenics and that could be constituted as violence, but violence towards the self is not what people mean by “dangerous.”
Myth: Schizophrenics can never make a recovery and fill up the mental institutions.
This myth is downright offensive, due to the underlying assumptions it infers. 75% of schizophrenics see a drastic recovery, with 50% or more living on fully healthy or without any needed support. The problem that perpetuates this misunderstanding is that our culture has adopted the word schizophrenic to act as a metaphor or slang term for “crazy.” It’s as offensive as the term “retard” being used to call someone unintelligent. But unfortunately, it’s just how things are, and we must do our best to educate people.
Lesser Known Schizophrenia Myths
Myth: Individuals develop schizophrenia because they have lower than average intelligence.
This is simply not the case. Many geniuses who have made very significant contributions to society, such as the mathematician John Nash for instance, were schizophrenic! Schizophrenia appears equally throughout society regardless IQ scores. People who deal with schizophrenia may seem less intelligent to others, but I think what they really mean is “unintelligible,” which is very different. The impairments in cognition and emotion can confuse people who don’t know the individual personally. But this does not mean the person suffers intellectually at all.
Myth: Schizophrenia is a sickness caused by trauma, such as abusive parenting or other troubled living conditions.
It is true that environment plays a role in the development of schizophrenia. It is a nature and nurture type of issue. However, childhood trauma has not been reported as a significant factor in regards to environmental influences. That means neglect, physical abuse, psychological oppression, malnutrition, and other such abuse scenarios do not play any strong role. It is genetics that is most strongly influential on the risk of developing the illness. Parents with schizophrenia could create troubled households, so there could be a correlation, but it is not a cause specifically.
Myth: All schizophrenics only have paranoia and scary hallucinations.
Thanks again to the media, most people tend to generalize the sub-type of paranoid schizophrenia across all of the types. This is simply not the case. There are other types of schizophrenia, such as catatonic schizophrenia that are completely different.
In addition, there are far more symptoms than just paranoia and hallucinations, although those are some of the more outwardly noticeable symptoms for bystanders, most of the symptoms are internal for the sufferer. Impaired thinking ability, mismatched or inappropriate emotional responses, decision-making difficulties, and delusions are just a small list of some of the other symptoms that occur. Not everything is as the television shows!
Myth: True schizophrenics don’t know they have schizophrenia.
This is a classic case of pop or armchair psychology. It’s true that many people can develop and worsen in symptoms for quite some time before they realize anything is wrong. It takes a certain level of awareness, or sometimes the intervention of a loved one to help them realize, that something is wrong. There are those who know something is going on, but for some reason or another, they refrain from seeing a doctor for perhaps even years before being diagnosed. There are those that possibly can never realize they are sick due to the strength and investment in their delusions. But it is certainly not true for every person who is schizophrenic.
Myth: Schizophrenia happens with a psychotic break or mental “snap.”
There are experiences called psychotic breaks. But schizophrenia is usually a slow progression into the illness, which is why we talk about an “age of onset.” The symptoms begin slowly which can affect social, school, and work life. This is how family and friends begin to notice that something is going wrong, but aren’t sure what it may be.
Myth: Individuals dealing with schizophrenia can never lead a normal life.
The truth is that up to 75% of people experience improvements in their symptoms, with 50% improving well enough that nobody else would even know their condition. People are not doomed to lead a miserable existence, even if their symptoms persist. It may hinder certain aspects of functioning and socializing, but people are not condemned to a hospital room, as the movies would have you believe. Many people can join an assisted living center and continue to contribute and enjoy themselves despite the severity of their symptoms. Continuing to engage in treatment is key to keeping symptoms at bay.
Myth: That mental illness is not a true illness and can be overcome by willpower and positive thinking.
It’s hard to believe that people still think this is true. If your arm gets chopped off, you can’t simply think it back into existence. You won’t grow a new one no matter how much you focus on it and think happy thoughts. Mental illness can be related to physical deformations of the brain such as lesions, or can be related to an imbalance in neurotransmitters or hormones. These causes have nothing to do with willpower and can actually stop positive thinking from happening. Medication is sometimes the first step in a successful treatment and should always be used in conjunction with therapy in order to maintain the gains made during the schizophrenic journey.
As you can see from the list above, there are obviously quite a few misconceptions about schizophrenia. There are some main causes that keeps these myths alive, such as the media’s repetition of them, and the lack of education surrounding this illness to those who have not personally experienced it in themselves or their family. Big myths are hard to destroy, but with time, we can all do it together. Arm yourself with knowledge so you can refute any of these myths as you encounter them in your daily life!