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4 Myths About Schizophrenia (and the Facts You Need to Know)

Debunking widely held notions about the disorder.

Source: nemke/Shutterstock

Roughly 1.1 percent of adults in the United States live with schizophrenia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). To put this into perspective, of the 52,964 people who visit Disney World every day, approximately 582 have schizophrenia. To get to Disney World, these 582 people would fill more than 11 Greyhound buses or 1.4 jumbo jets.

Of course, those 582 individuals represent only a small portion of the 2 million people with the disorder in the entire country. The total number of Americans with schizophrenia could replace every resident in Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and then some.

Do you know someone living in one of these cities? Then you’re just as likely to know someone with schizophrenia.

Myths and Facts About Schizophrenia

Contrary to their portrayal in some media, individuals with schizophrenia are able to live relatively normal lives. For many people, this fact can be surprising. Aren’t people with schizophrenia, they might ask, supposed to be locked up inside a One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest type of institution? Isn’t schizophrenia supposed to be a life-ending diagnosis?

As it turns out, myths—and not the facts—heavily influence how many people view schizophrenia. Here are only a few of the commonly believed myths, and why they're wrong:

1. People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities.

According to a 2008 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64 percent of the population is unable to recognize the symptoms associated with schizophrenia and instead simply believe that people with the disorder have “split” or multiple personalities.

This is false. Schizophrenia often involves a variety of symptoms, but not one involves multiple personalities. This myth likely originated because the word “schizo” means split—however, in this case, it refers to gaps (or a splitting) in a person’s ability to think and express emotions. (People with split personalities are living with Dissociative Identity Disorder.)

2. Schizophrenia makes people dangerous.

In popular culture, individuals with schizophrenia are often depicted as sadistic, unpredictable, and violent. Although it’s true that some individuals with schizophrenia do commit crimes, the vast majority of patients are nonviolent. In fact, of past violent offenders who did have schizophrenia, only 23 percent of their crimes were directly related to their symptoms.

Unfortunately, the notion that all individuals with schizophrenia are dangerous contributes heavily to the stigma surrounding the disorder. People with schizophrenia often have reduced housing and employment opportunities, greater stress, lower self-esteem, and diminished quality of life.

3. Schizophrenia only involves delusions and hallucinations.

Many people incorrectly believe that individuals with schizophrenia only suffer from hallucinations and delusions. This is not surprising: Psychotic symptoms are unusual and often frightening, and so popular culture focuses on these more than other symptoms associated with schizophrenia.

Along with delusions and hallucinations, though, individuals with schizophrenia may experience blunted emotions, low motivation, disorganized speech, and a lack of desire to form social relationships. They also can have difficulty maintaining attention and performing certain cognitive tasks.

4. Schizophrenia can’t be treated.

In old movies—and in old times in general—people with schizophrenia often were carted off to institutions, often to live the rest of their lives in isolation. In many ways, developing a severe mental disorder was the same as receiving a life sentence in prison. For this reason, many people erroneously believe that schizophrenia can’t be treated and that institutionalization is the only solution.

Although it's true that schizophrenia cannot be cured, it can be successfully treated. Medication, rehabilitation practices, and psychosocial therapies can help individuals with schizophrenia lead independent and productive lives. In fact, with proper treatment, many people with schizophrenia appear to be completely healthy.

Sovereign Health/Shutterstock
Source: Sovereign Health/Shutterstock

Much More to Learn

Researchers are still trying to learn everything they can about the disorder: Is schizophrenia linked to specific anatomical structures in the brain? Can a computer predict the risk of psychosis? Are microbiomes within the human throat partially to blame for the development of the disorder? Every day, more answers are uncovered as more questions arise. Hopefully, in the future, all of the present facts about schizophrenia will turn into myths as well.

Contributed by Courtney Lopresti, M.S.