Think of schizophrenia, and what comes to mind? Violence? Murder? Sensationalist news articles and inaccurate TV show and film depictions that paint a picture of highly disturbed, highly unsympathetic killers. It should be no surprise that many newly diagnosed people fear the connotations of their illness.
Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses. Typical symptoms of schizophrenia include delusions, hallucinations (such as hearing voices), and a confused mental state. Despite these frequent characterizations, those with schizophrenia don’t have more violent tendencies than others.
So why are sufferers so often misrepresented? Lack of exposure plays a large role. The more information we can put out into the world, the more understanding people will have. If a person knows and can recognize the signs of schizophrenia, he might have the wherewithal to go out and take a schizophrenia test rather than suffer in silence.
Myth 1: People with schizophrenia are violent
As mentioned, those with schizophrenia get a bad reputation on the issue of violence, but aggressive tendencies actually aren’t associated with the illness at all. In fact, sufferers of mental illness are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence.
In the few cases when those with the illness do act out violently, it is likely not to be a result of their schizophrenia. Studies link the violent behaviours of schizophrenic patients to other, often untreated, disorders: usually antisocial behaviour such as child conduct disorder, or alcohol, or drug abuse.
Myth 2: Schizophrenia means having multiple personalities
Many people mistake schizophrenia for dissociative identity disorder, commonly known as multiple personality disorder. This myth can be partly blamed on schizophrenia’s name, which means ‘split mind’. Unfortunately, it pervades popular culture, especially in television depictions of one or the other. Let’s clear this up: people with schizophrenia do not have multiple personalities.
The confusion also may be because both schizophrenia and DID can cause people to ‘hear voices’. A person with schizophrenia might hear voices, but he recognizes them as outside of himself; a person with DID however, has multiple identities within himself and may sometimes lose time when one of the identities has taken over. People with schizophrenia may create a belief system based on their delusions, while people with DID only have the delusion of the other identities.
Myth 3: Schizophrenia can’t be treated
Treatment options for schizophrenia continue to improve as more is known about the illness. Doctors commonly prescribe antipsychotic medications, coupled with family or individual therapy and life skills training. In rare cases, they will use electroconvulsive therapy. Depending on the seriousness of their diagnosis and the success of their treatment, people with schizophrenia can live relatively normal lives.
Statistics for recovery from schizophrenia, 10 years after psychosis:
25 per cent are fully recovered
25 per cent are greatly improved and independent
25 per cent are improved but need continued support
15 per cent are in the hospital
10 per cent are dead
It is important to note that schizophrenia is a life-long illness and requires constant treatment, even when one has recovered and is living a productive life.
Many people with schizophrenia live independently or with their families. Others may require in-home care or hospitalization.
Myth 4: All people with schizophrenia hear voices
Hallucinations and delusions, though the most obvious schizophrenic symptoms, are experienced by some, but not all people with the illness. Less commonly associated symptoms include lack of emotions, disorganized or blurred thoughts and speech, and unusual motor behaviour. Schizophrenia can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, even within its subtypes.
These subtypes include:
Paranoid schizophrenia. People with this subtype often experience auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions. Symptoms usually don’t appear until later in life, and so many with paranoid schizophrenia are able to function in society after treatment.
Disorganized schizophrenia. Sufferers of disorganized schizophrenia may have trouble with daily tasks, such as brushing their teeth, and may have unusual emotional reactions to situations. Generally, hallucinations and delusions are less prominent.
Catatonic schizophrenia. Those with catatonic schizophrenia might experience catatonic stupor, when they feel unable or unwilling to move, or catatonic excitement, when they suddenly increase in activity. Sufferers sometimes exhibit unusual body positions.
Residual schizophrenia. This subtype includes those whose schizophrenic symptoms are no longer prominent, though they may still experience them.
Undifferentiated schizophrenia. When people experience symptoms of schizophrenia that fluctuate or are unclear, they are placed in this type.
People with schizophrenia sometimes lack the ability to judge that they need medical treatment, so it may fall to family or friends to help them. Increasing education about schizophrenia is crucial to destigmatizing the illness. The more we know, the more we can help and understand those around us.