Misconceptions About People With Schizophrenia
I confess that I knew next to nothing about schizophrenia when a loved one was diagnosed with this condition. Since then, I have found that there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about this mental health disorder.
Facts about schizophrenia
- The development of this condition happens in the late teens to early 20s for males, and females, during their mid-20s to early 30s
- Schizophrenia affects anyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, culture or economic status
- Environment and genetics can play a role in the development of this condition
- Approximately 50 percent of people with schizophrenia also abuse substances or have a chemical dependency
Understanding the meaning of “psychosis” and “psychotic”
Psychosis is one of the main characteristics of schizophrenia. This word is actually a medical term for a specific state of mind in which people lose touch with reality and experience auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia. The term “psychotic” should not be used in place of words like “crazy.”
I have seen my loved one tell someone in a story about an accident she was in with a relative. I asked the relative about it and found out that the incident never happened.
This condition is not common: Schizophrenia affects approximately one percent of the general population, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). It can happen to anyone.
Schizophrenia is a split personality: Many people have the mistaken belief that schizophrenia is the same as split personalities, also known as dissociative identity disorder. These two conditions are very different. Schizophrenia, which means “of two minds” in Latin, is actually a chemical imbalance in the brain, a split that causes delusions, hallucinations, and/or paranoia. Schizophrenic individuals may hear voices in their head, and see people and things who are not there.
Mentally ill people are violent: When violent acts like mass shootings or massacres are covered in the media, they tend to blame the acts on mental illness. This belief contributes to people’s fear of mentally ill people and add to the stigma that keeps people suffering from mental health disorders from seeking help. In actuality, people with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime rather than perpetrators.
Most people with mental illness are not violent. Even when symptoms of schizophrenia go untreated, people with this condition are more likely to withdraw from people than to lash out, says the Child Mind Institute. They are more likely to isolate themselves and want to be left alone.
Everyone has the same symptoms: Symptoms vary greatly from person to person. There are a number of different types of schizophrenia. Some people only experience psychosis, while others have paranoia, delusions, or hallucinations. There are common symptoms, but each person experiences them differently.
This condition is a sign of weakness: Some people look at mental weakness a sign of moral weakness and the mentally ill should just “get over it.” In reality, this condition is a complex disorder with many physical components such as genetic factors and a chemical imbalance in the brain. This condition is not just a bad case of nerves that is cured by getting some rest. Mentally ill people do experience a lot of anxiety, especially when they are hearing voices or are feeling paranoid.
Schizophrenic individuals cannot lead productive lives: Some people both inside and outside the mental health field feel that schizophrenia means that people with this condition will not be able to function normally in society and will have limited capabilities. The symptoms of this disorder can be challenging, but schizophrenic people are capable of being contributing members of society. They can obtain advanced degrees, have successful professional careers, marry, and have families.
There is no cure for this condition, but it can be treated with medication and behavioral therapy, and can be managed under the care of a psychiatrist.
This condition is caused by bad parenting: Back in the 1950s, some therapists believed that schizophrenia was caused by bad parenting. Highly stressful family situations may make the symptoms worse, but do not cause the condition.
People with schizophrenia experience cognitive decline: This condition is not the same as dementia, which becomes worse over time.
Schizophrenia runs in families: This condition can run in families, but requires both the presence of certain genes and a trigger that activates the genes, such as emotional trauma or severe stress. If a close relative has this condition, the risk of developing it is only approximately 10 percent.
Being on antipsychotic drugs is worse than the illness: People tend to think of antipsychotic drugs as causing lethargy, a lack of interest, and a vacant expression. These medications actually help people with mental illness by reducing their delusions, hallucinations, mental confusion, and strange behavior. Zombie-like reactions to medications are relatively minor.
Treatment is not an exact science because psychiatrists can only prescribe based on symptoms and observation. Even though researchers think that schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental brain disorder with possible structural differences in the brain and chemical imbalances, there is no test that detects the condition. There is a lot of promising research in this area right now but nothing concrete so far.
A mentally ill individual may need to reduce or increase their dosage, or change medications from time to time based on trial and error. My loved one has changed medications a few times when symptoms resurfaced. Antipsychotic drugs are not a “cure” and some symptoms may persist, but these medications are one of the safest groups of drugs in common usage.
My loved one has improved dramatically on a certain antipsychotic medication and has little to no psychotic episodes and dramatically improved cognitive function. It is a powerful drug with severe side effects in some cases such as heart problems that need to be carefully monitored. My loved one's psychiatrist is optimistic that my loved one will continue to improve over time.
Mentally ill people are less human: These people are no less human than us because they hear voices and experience breaks from reality. They want normalcy just as much as other people. Having this condition does not mean that people with schizophrenia must be hospitalized in an institution. They may be hospitalized briefly for up to 72 hours for observation and diagnosis now and then after severe psychotic episodes.
A small number will almost fully recover either with treatment, while another small number may be severely disabled by this condition and unable to care for themselves or live independently. A few people report their symptoms go away without treatment. Most people with schizophrenia have some periods of crisis or functional impairment, but experience significant periods of stability.
It is sad that there is so much stigma and misinformation about mental illness I cannot identify my loved one. I can say that although this person sometimes experiences symptoms such as voices and hallucinations, I have every hope that this individual will be able to live a full and productive life.
Have you got the wrong impression about schizophrenia? BBC News
13 Myths of Schizophrenia, PsychCentral, John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
Myths, Half-truths, and Common Misconceptions about Schizophrenia and Severe and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI), Schizophrenia.ca
9 Schizophrenia Myths and Facts, WebMD
© 2016 Carola Finch