Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. Learn more about schizophrenia and the truth about nine common myths surrounding this condition.
Schizophrenia is a type of psychotic disorder characterized by the presence of hallucinations, delusions and an altered sense of reality. Other common symptoms of schizophrenia involve disorganized thought patterns, disorganized speech, abnormal movement, and social isolation.
Schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders impact 0.25-0.64% of the American population, according to The National Institute of Mental Health. Typically, schizophrenia is diagnosed during teenage years and into early adulthood. The condition presents earlier in males than females. Based on how individuals with schizophrenia are portrayed in popular media, there are many myths and misconceptions surrounding this condition. Discover the facts here.
Myth 1: Schizophrenia involves a split personality
Fact: Schizophrenia is a separate related condition to dissociative identity disorder, which involves personality “splitting.”
One of the most common myths about schizophrenia is that schizophrenics have multiple or split personalities. Often times schizophrenia is confused with its related condition, dissociative identity disorder (DID). With DID, a person has one personality that is split into smaller fragments.
An individual with DID may be wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia if their description of their personality fragments is interpreted as a delusion. Schizophrenia is formally distinguished from DID based on the presence of delusions and hallucinations. Dissociative disorders involve an altered sense of reality similar to schizophrenia but do not involve hallucinations or delusions.
Myth 2: People with schizophrenia are dangerous
Fact: People with schizophrenia are wrongly identified as being dangerous through their portrayal in popular media.
Are schizophrenic individuals more prone to dangerous behavior? When individuals are diagnosed with schizophrenia alone and not a co-occurring condition, they are unlikely to be violent or dangerous, according to the American Psychiatric Association. In many cases, individuals with schizophrenia live in special homes, with their family or on their own if they are high-functioning. People with this condition may still exhibit unpredictable behavior, however.
A study conducted in 2012 found that a majority (80%) of films involving schizophrenic characters portrayed these characters as violent. While this study only looked at movies produced from 1990-2010, it is likely that more recent movies involving schizophrenic protagonists will be more sensitive to actual schizophrenia facts.
Another study conducted in 2016 found that various films exaggerated protagonists’ schizophrenic symptoms for dramatic purposes. This dramatization likely stems from a complete misunderstanding of the condition, which is insensitive toward those who struggle with it.
Myth 3: Individuals with schizophrenia can’t hold down a job
Fact: With proper treatment, schizophrenic individuals can be high-functioning and successfully manage their condition.
Another common misconception about individuals with schizophrenia is that they cannot hold a job. With the right treatment and support system, people with this condition can be extremely high-functioning and productive. If a person is diagnosed with schizophrenia by a medical professional, they may qualify for social security benefits.
Unfortunately, most people diagnosed with schizophrenia are unemployed, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For those people that can successfully manage their condition, some of the best types of jobs for schizophrenics include careers:
- That gives people meaning and structure
- That decrease or alleviate hallucinations and delusions
- Where an individual feels comfortable and supported
- With tasks that will not overwhelm or cause excessive stress to an individual
- With flexibility (part-time or flexible hours)
Myth 4: Schizophrenia is caused by bad parenting
Fact: Schizophrenia has specific genetic and environmental risk factors and is not directly caused by bad parenting.
It is a common myth that bad parenting or difficult relationships directly cause schizophrenia. This stereotype cannot be further from the truth. Schizophrenia has numerous genetic causes. Each of these has a small impact on the overall development of the condition.
Some risk factors for developing schizophrenia include experiencing severe childhood stress or trauma, or infections that stimulate the immune system.
Another genetic risk factor includes a small deletion in chromosome 22. Chromosomes are responsible for storing all of a person’s genetic information. A small deletion in chromosome 22 can predispose an individual to develop not only schizophrenia but heart, immune system and developmental problems (cleft palate). There may be some environmental and psychological factors responsible for the development of schizophrenia, but these still need to be validated scientifically.
Myth 5: Schizophrenia requires long-term hospitalization
Fact: In many cases, individuals with schizophrenia can be successfully rehabilitated back into society.
Not all individuals with schizophrenia require long-term hospitalization. Some people with this condition live with their relatives or in group homes. A person may be hospitalized if they exhibit schizophrenia symptoms for the first time, or if they continue to experience schizophrenia symptoms after treatment and medication. Since the 1990s, the amount of publications and research on schizophrenia has steadily increased.
Some typical schizophrenia treatment modalities include:
- Therapeutic methods that block dopamine receptors in the brain (e.g., antipsychotic medications)
- Behavioral and psychotherapy, with the overall goal to address cognitive impairments and improve memory
- Improving psychosocial interactions (e.g., workplace rehabilitation)
Depending on how an individual responds to treatment modalities will dictate how long-term their treatments are. According to the Mayo Clinic, schizophrenia symptoms require lifelong treatment, though long-term hospitalization may not be necessary unless symptoms are severe.
Myth 6: Schizophrenia symptoms are the same for everyone
Fact: Not everyone with schizophrenia experiences the same symptoms nor the same severity of symptoms.
There are several different types of schizophrenia including paranoid, disorganized, childhood and catatonic schizophrenia. Other conditions that are closely associated with schizophrenia include schizoaffective disorder, agoraphobia and panic disorder.
Schizophrenia symptoms and type vary depending on the culture in which the individual was diagnosed. For example, delusions of a religious nature are more common where Christianity is practiced, whereas this is not the case in societies where Hinduism, Buddhism and Muslim religions are more commonly practiced. Individuals living with schizophrenia in Africa are more prone to hallucinations relative to other societies.
A correlation was found between a worse prognosis and societies with higher linguistic aptitude. Additionally, negative symptoms of schizophrenia were reported to be worse in India relative to the United States or the United Kingdom. Interestingly, these results suggest that schizophrenia symptoms range in severity across cultures.
Myth 7: Schizophrenia impacts intelligence
Fact: Schizophrenia does not have an impact on a person’s intelligence.
Popular media often associates high intelligence with schizophrenia. A study was conducted in 2014 to address this apparent association. The study showed that there was no association between genius or high intelligence and the development of schizophrenia.
Another study found that people who develop schizophrenia have lower IQ tests before and after the onset of schizophrenia. There have also been reports of individuals with very high IQs with schizophrenia. Nevertheless, these individuals make up a very small proportion of cases.
Myth 8: Schizophrenia causes sudden mood swings
Fact: Schizophrenia is related to both bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder, which are characterized by sudden and alternating mood swings. However, schizophrenia is an entirely separate condition.
Yet another schizophrenia myth is that individuals experience unpredictable mood swings, though this is not the case.
Bipolar disorder is defined as a condition whereby a person cannot regulate their moods. Mood swings range from low or depressive to elated or manic.
Similarly, schizoaffective disorder encompasses all the symptoms of schizophrenia plus a mood disorder like bipolar disorder.
Thus, an individual who exhibits symptoms of schizophrenia and mood swings likely has schizoaffective disorder rather than schizophrenia. Bipolar disorder is usually treated with mood stabilizers and antidepressants, whereas schizophrenia is treated with antipsychotic medication. In the case of schizoaffective disorder, a combination of antipsychotics and antidepressants or mood stabilizing drugs may be recommended.
Myth 9: Schizophrenia cannot be treated
Fact: Schizophrenia can be treated with several evidence-based treatments.
Currently, there are several focuses on the treatment of schizophrenia. Along with antipsychotic medications that target the brain’s dopamine receptors, novel pharmacologic agents include those that target glutamate, glycine and acetylcholine receptors.
Other treatments for schizophrenia include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
- Deep brain stimulation
- An integrated approach to schizophrenia patients’ health care (mind and body)
If you or a loved one are struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction and co-occurring schizophrenia, The Recovery Village can help. Contact a representative today to discuss treatment options for schizophrenia and addiction.
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Greenstein, Lauran. “Can Stigma Prevent Employment?” The National Alliance on Mental Illness, October 16, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2019.
Kendler, Kenneth; Ohlsson, Henrik; et al. “IQ and Schizophrenia in a Swedish National Sample: Their Causal Relationship and the Interaction of IQ with Genetic Risk.” American Journal of Psychiatry, November 7, 2014. Accessed June 2, 2019.
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