Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that affects a person’s thoughts, perceptions, and behaviors.
People with schizophrenia may experience disruptions in their thought processes, which can take the form of hallucinations and delusions. The symptoms of schizophrenia can be disabling.
There are many stubborn myths about schizophrenia. Depictions of this condition in movies and the media may fuel these harmful notions. They may also appear due to a general lack of knowledge about what the condition is and how it affects people.
This article looks at some of the most common myths about schizophrenia and provides the facts to refute them.
One persistent myth about schizophrenia is that it causes a person to have multiple personalities, or a split personality.
People may think that a person with schizophrenia acts as though they have two or more separate identities.
The main characteristics of schizophrenia are disruptions in a person’s thought processes. In some cases, the condition can also cause hallucinations or delusions.
However, the condition does not cause a personality split. This is a separate condition, known as dissociative personality disorder.
Media outlets sometimes portray people with schizophrenia as separate from society, or as people who cannot do ordinary activities such as hold down a job.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimate that around 0.25% to 0.64% of people in the United States have schizophrenia or a related condition. This means that schizophrenia is relatively uncommon.
For this reason, it is possible that this myth persists because many people never know or interact with someone who has schizophrenia.
However, this does not mean that they are apart from society. People with schizophrenia who respond well to treatment are often able to enjoy independence and a job.
Another common myth is that schizophrenia is purely genetic. Many people believe that if a person with schizophrenia has a child, the child will also have the condition.
The reality is more complex. There does appear to be a genetic factor to schizophrenia, but the NIMH note that there are many cases of people with schizophrenia who do not have any family members with the condition.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is still unknown. There are a number of risk factors that health professionals believe may play a role in the development of schizophrenia, including:
- environmental factors, such as malnutrition before birth or exposure to certain viruses
- changes in brain chemistry and structure
Also, some think that major changes in the body — such as puberty — may trigger symptoms in people susceptible to the condition due to other factors.
Another common myth about schizophrenia is that it develops very suddenly, and that the symptoms arise without warning.
This is not common in schizophrenia. In fact, the symptoms most often appear slowly over time.
The NIMH note that slight changes in thinking and social relationships are some of the earlier symptoms, and that these often appear years before the person receives a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
The myth that people with schizophrenia are inherently violent or dangerous is also heavily perpetuated by movies and other forms of media.
Many movie villains have mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, that make them appear violent and unstable.
In reality, people with schizophrenia are usually no more violent than anyone else. In fact, research shows that people with schizophrenia are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime.
In an older article from 2009, researchers found that people with schizophrenia who did not misuse drugs or alcohol were just 1.2 times more likely to commit violent crimes.
The overall risk of violence from people with schizophrenia was four to six times that of the general population.
However, the researchers also note some limitations of their study, such as the influence of substance abuse and environmental factors — including how much support a person receives — in their likelihood of violence.
An older Swedish study from 2006 looked at 98,082 people with schizophrenia and other psychoses. They found that people with these conditions accounted for only 5% of perpetrators of violent crime.
One 2013 study found that although schizophrenia increased the risk of violent behavior in all participants, the risk was significantly higher in females.
Researchers have also stated that “public perception associated with stereotypic violence among individuals with psychiatric disorders appears unwarranted.” They found that alcohol and drug use disorders were more likely to result in violent behavior.
Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia may include acting unpredictably or experiencing sounds or sights that are not there, which may give rise to seemingly violent behavior.
Also, some people with schizophrenia may also have other conditions that predispose them to violent behavior.
Although there is no outright cure for schizophrenia, treatment is possible. Many people receive a combination of medications, psychosocial therapy, and rehabilitation.
Treatment can help control symptoms and allow people with schizophrenia to gain independence.
However, many people with the condition do not have access to treatment. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimate that more than 69% of people with schizophrenia are not receiving appropriate care.
It is a pervasive myth that those with schizophrenia stay in the hospital or a mental health institution indefinitely.
The reality is very different. With appropriate treatment, many people with schizophrenia can control the symptoms and lead happy lives.
The American Psychiatric Association note that most people with schizophrenia live alone, with family members, or in a group home.
Antipsychotic medications are one important aspect of treatment for schizophrenia. They help control more severe symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations, and can help reduce bizarre or erratic behavior.
However, many people have negative perceptions of antipsychotic medications, believing that they cause people to become vacant or lethargic.
Although the vast majority of medications have side effects, these vary from person to person. It is crucial to work directly with a doctor to develop and update a treatment plan in each case.
Often, this will include considering whether or not the advantages of pharmaceutical treatment outweigh the risks.
Schizophrenia is a complex condition, and researchers continue to study its underlying mechanisms and symptoms.
Media portrayals and the general understanding of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia can perpetuate a number of myths that are harmful to people who have the condition.
Having a better understanding of the facts can help people move past any stigma and be more understanding and supportive for people with severe mental health conditions.