By Kathryn Millán, MA, LPC/MHSP

Myths word graphicSchizophrenia is an often-misunderstood mental illness that impacts about 1.1 percent of all U.S. adults, which adds up to approximately 2 million people over the age of 18.1,2 Chances are, you have met someone with schizophrenia at some point in your life, but thanks to modern treatments and awareness, most people with this disorder live normal lives just like anybody else.

Despite these modern advances, many people are still unsure of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Media portrayals of this illness compound misconceptions, and schizophrenia is often confused with a host of unrelated conditions and behaviors. These misunderstandings can lead to missed diagnoses, missed treatments and unnecessary guilt and shame surrounding the disorder.

Separating Fact From Fiction

So let’s talk about some common myths about schizophrenia, along with some useful facts that may help you better understand this condition and its treatments.


MYTH: People with schizophrenia have a split personality.

FACT: This misconception may have begun with the very first definition of this disorder. In 1910, Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler first identified and named this disorder. He decided to derive the term from Greek words: ‘schizo’ (meaning split) and ‘phren’ (meaning mind). His original intent was not to describe a dual personality, but to describe the split between a person’s feelings and thoughts.3

The issue of split personality is actually seen in a different disorder known as dissociative identity disorder. It is a condition that has come under recent scrutiny, and is not tied to schizophrenia in any known way.4 When people begin to show symptoms of schizophrenia, they do not become another personality. They are still the same person they always have been who just happens to have schizophrenic symptoms.


MYTH: People with schizophrenia are not able to be properly treated. and they must be institutionalized.

FACT: Despite movie and television portrayals, schizophrenia is a treatable and manageable condition. It does, however, require constant treatment. Most people manage schizophrenia through a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Newer generations of medications offer less side effects and greater effectiveness, and new medications are constantly being developed. With proper treatment and awareness, people with this disorder are able to go to work, live in their own homes and have friends and associates.5

New research has shown that some medical diseases may mimic schizophrenia symptoms. For instance, immune diseases, such as some types of encephalitis, may share some symptoms with schizophrenia. It is important for any family that is concerned about a loved one to seek a full medical evaluation in order to find the best treatments possible.6


MYTH: People with schizophrenia are dangerous.

FACT: Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous. Violent behavior among people who struggle with schizophrenia has varying origins. If left untreated, they may be more likely to harm others in an attempt to protect themselves from perceived dangers.

New studies show that other, compounding disorders are most likely behind some violent behavior. For instance, conditions such as childhood antisocial behavior disorder may correlate with violent behavior amount people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia. So, certain co-occurring conditions may be a cause behind any increased violence and not schizophrenia itself.7

Sadly, this stigma particularly contributes to the isolation and hopelessness that many people with chronic mental health conditions experience. This misconception lowers self-esteem, increases stress and may increase symptoms due to stress and diminished life quality.


MYTH: Schizophrenia only involves hallucinations and delusions.

FACT: Schizophrenia is a complex condition that can create a number of behaviors that are not always obvious. Schizophrenia symptoms do include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there and could not realistically be there) and delusions (beliefs that could possibly be true but are not).

However, other symptoms must be present for a schizophrenia diagnosis to be given. “Positive” symptoms include behaviors that are outside of normal experience, such as agitated movements, thought problems and the previously mentioned hallucinations and delusions. “Negative” symptoms include emotions and behaviors that are blunted or temporarily missing during active states of schizophrenia. These negative symptoms may include reduced expression of emotions, flat affect and reduced speaking or movement. Further, active, untreated schizophrenia also includes cognitive symptoms, including difficulty paying attention, retaining information or making decisions.

Finding Help for Those With Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a complicated disorder that often carries a great deal of stigma. However, its symptoms are treatable, and the right treatment plan can make an incredible difference in the life of anyone who suffers with this disorder. Greater public education can help increase access to effective symptom management, while encouraging people who struggle with this condition to accept treatment so that they can live happier lives.


Sources

1 National Institute of Mental Health. Schizophrenia. February 2016.

2 National Alliance on Mental Illness. Schizophrenia; Public Attitudes, Personal Needs. June 2008.

3 Burton, N. A Brief History of Schizophrenia. Psychology Today. September 8, 2002.

4 Psychology Today. Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). March 26, 2018.

5 Mayo Clinic. Schizophrenia. Retrieved April 25, 2018.

6 Houston Methodist. Treatable condition could be mistaken for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. ScienceDaily. December 13, 2017.

7 Swanson JW, et. al. Alternative pathways to violence in persons with schizophrenia: The role of childhood antisocial behavior problems. Law and Human Behavior. June 2008.