Schizophrenia is one of the most sensationalized mental disorders in fiction, rarely being portrayed accurately. And because only about one percent of people in the world have schizophrenia, fiction is often our only exposure to the disorder.
Those inaccurate portrayals in movies and television, combined with the spread of outdated scientific information, has resulted in a lot of persistent myths about schizophrenia. Here are nine of the most commonly believed misconceptions and the truths behind them.
The first myth is that having schizophrenia means you have “split personalities.” Dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder, is an extremely rare condition that is completely different from schizophrenia.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, symptoms of DID include “the presence of two or more distinct personality states,” and the inability to recall personal information beyond what is expected through normal forgetfulness. Basically, it’s as if two or more separate personalities embody the same person at different times.
Schizophrenia, on the other hand, is mental disorder characterized by “distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, language, sense of self, and behavior,” according to the World Health Organization. People with schizophrenia may experience hallucinations or delusions but they have just one personality.
The second commonly held myth is that people with schizophrenia are especially dangerous and violent. While it’s true that some people with schizophrenia can act unpredictably at times, they are actually far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.
Factors of Victimhood
That’s because people with schizophrenia are more likely to be affected by homelessness and substance and alcohol abuse than members of the general public. Regardless of that fact, the idea of people with schizophrenia being especially violent is persistent, likely do to the portrayal of them as “psychos” in film and television.
The third myth is that schizophrenia is simply a disorder of that just causes delusions and hallucinations, probably because the other symptoms are a bit less interesting and consequently get less emphasis in fictional portrayals. However, this is partly false.
Emotional, Mental, and Behavioral
In addition to the delusions and hallucinations, people with schizophrenia may experience blunted or muted emotions, low motivation, disorganized speech, and a lack of desire to form relationships. They may also have difficulties with maintaining attention and certain kinds of cognitive tasks.
Blaming the Parents
Myth number four is that schizophrenia is the fault of the person’s parents. This myth takes on two forms, the first blaming the disease on bad parenting. While poor parenting, neglect, or abuse can increase the risk of a number mental and emotional problems in adulthood, numerous studies have shown that schizophrenia is not one of them.
Some Increased Risk
Some people also believe that if your parent has schizophrenia, you’ll get it too. While there is some genetic component to the disorder, it’s quite far from a guarantee. If you have one parent with schizophrenia, your odds of getting it increase by about 10 percent. However, if both parents have schizophrenia, your odds increase by about 50 percent.
Myth number five is that the behavior of a person with schizophrenia can be perfectly normal at one moment and completely switch the next. In actuality, the changes in behavior that result from schizophrenia are usually much more gradual.
The symptoms of schizophrenia typically reveal themselves first with a person becoming more emotionally flat, isolating themselves more frequently and decreasing their participation in activities. Later, a psychotic break can be triggered by a stressful event, such as starting college or losing a loved one.
Lock Them Away
The sixth myth is that the only way to deal with a person who has schizophrenia is to institutionalize them. In the past, people with schizophrenia were often carted off to institutions where they would live out the rest of their lives in isolation, essentially serving a life sentence in prison.
Treatment is Possible
Now we have a better understanding of the disorder and, while there is not yet a cure for schizophrenia, it can be treated. With medication, rehabilitation, and psychosocial therapy, a person with schizophrenia can lead a productive and independent life.
The seventh myth is that schizophrenia only affects a person mentally and emotionally. But people with schizophrenia have a life expectancy that is reduced by as much as 15 years. This is partly because those suffering commit suicide at a higher rate than the rest of the population, but that isn’t the main cause.
According to a recent study conducted by Lund and Stanford universities, women with schizophrenia are 3.3 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease and men are 2.2 times more likely. Women with schizophrenia also are 1.7 times as likely to die of cancer and while men are 1.4 times more likely. It is not yet clear why this is the case.
The eighth myth is that having schizophrenia is a sign of weakness or some moral failing. Some people believe that if a person is strong or morally upstanding, they can’t be affected by schizophrenia or any other mental illness.
Schizophrenia is the result of physical changes in a person’s brain structure and neurochemistry. It is no more a person’s fault that the have schizophrenia than it would be their fault if they were nearsighted or had lupus.
‘Suck it Up!’
The ninth myth is that schizophrenia can be overcome by sheer willpower. Like diabetes or asthma, schizophrenia symptoms require medical intervention to be managed. And as previously mentioned, advancements in recent decades have made it possible for people with schizophrenia to live healthy lives through proper treatment.
Seek Professional Help
If you believe that you or a loved one might have schizophrenia seek help from medical professionals. They will try to determine if the symptoms you are observing are from schizophrenia or some other disease through a variety of methods.
A doctor may perform a physical exam to rule out other problems that could cause symptoms and to check for related complications. They may run tests such as an MRI, CT scan or a blood test. The subject may also go through a psychiatric evaluation where a professional will observe their appearance and demeanor, and ask them questions about their thoughts, feelings, family, and personal history.