Common Misconceptions About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious, debilitating mental disorder that affects millions of people around the world. Yet, there are still many common misconceptions about schizophrenia. People think it means different things or they think it only happens to certain people. A better understanding of what it means to have schizophrenia is necessary to ensure that people with this disease get the treatment they need and the respect they deserve.

Schizophrenia vs. Multiple or ‘Split’ Personalities

By far, the most common myth is that schizophrenia means having "split personalities". Part of the confusion comes from the translation of schizophrenia as, literally, "fractured mind". The term was originally intended, however, simply to show that a person's mind was broken or dysfunctional, not that their personality itself was split into multiple pieces. The thought processes and behaviors of a schizophrenic person may appear disjointed, but that person will only have a single personality.

Now, there is such a thing as "split personalities". It is called dissociative identity disorder, but it is completely separate and distinct from schizophrenia, and is a much less common disease.

Violence and Schizophrenia

Another common misconception is that all schizophrenic individuals are violent, or are prone to criminal behavior. This is the result of a handful of violent criminals (who happened to be schizophrenic) having their stories repeated over and over by the media. In fact, the overlap between violent criminals and schizophrenics is very small, with only a small minority of people being both. That said, the delusions that often arise in schizophrenics' minds may sometimes trigger violent behavior. This is typically not a long-term behavioral change, however, and can generally be managed along with other symptoms.

Prevalence

Many people think schizophrenia is rare. This is simply untrue. Although not nearly as prevalent as heart disease or cancer, schizophrenia nevertheless affects tens of millions of people around the world. In fact, one estimate suggests that around one percent of the world's population—roughly 70 million people—suffer from schizophrenia, making it more than twice as common as HIV/AIDS.

Another myth is that children cannot have schizophrenia. This is perhaps more true than other common beliefs. Rarely, children as young as five years old can show signs of schizophrenia, and there is no evidence that says schizophrenia biologically cannot affect the very young. The vast majority of cases, however, do appear in adolescence or early adulthood.

Causes

No one really knows what causes schizophrenia. Research suggests that it is a combination of factors, ranging from genetic predisposition to environmental conditions to developmental problems in the brain. Because there is no one clear cause, it is wrong to blame street drugs, a parent's DNA, or child abuse or other trauma. Similarly, there is no reason to discourage schizophrenic people from having children, since the genetic component of the disease (if any) will not be the sole predictor of risk.

Conclusion

When people misunderstand a disease, it leads them to stigmatize the sufferers of that disease, burdening them with unfair accusations and unrealistic expectations. By familiarizing yourself with some of the most common misconceptions about schizophrenia, you'll be more supportive and appreciative of the challenges faced by schizophrenics.

Photo by John Nyboer

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