Schizophrenia affects approximately 1% of the population but it is one of the most deeply misunderstood psychiatric diseases. If society moves past the stigma of the disease and demystifys the myths associated with the disorder, then we move closer to truly understanding it. It is only then that we can help those who suffer from schizophrenia.
Myth: Schizophrenia is a “split personality disorder.”
“Split personality” or multiple personality disorder is a much less common disorder than schizophrenia. In multiple personality disorder, the individual has two or more distinct personalities. In schizophrenia, there is only one personality present, although individuals do suffer from “splits” with reality during the active phase of schizophrenia.
Myth: Schizophrenia is rare.
It is not as rare as one might think. If 1% of the population is afflicted with schizophrenia, that’s equivalent to 1 in 100 people. The math is easy. Individuals with schizophrenia are our next door neighbors, our loved ones and are people we see each day in society.
Myth: All people with schizophrenia suffer from the same symptoms.
Not only is this untrue, but there are so many differentiating symptoms that schizophrenia is categorized into five distinct subtypes: Paranoid, disorganized, catatonic, residual and undifferentiating.
Myth: Schizophrenics are violent and dangerous.
Positive symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations may provoke violent behavior in those who suffer from schizophrenia; they are not known to be dangerous.
Myth: There is no treatment for schizophrenia.
There is no cure for schizophrenia, but there are successful treatment options available. Treatment options always include a combination of antipsychotic medication and psychotherapy.
Myth: Schizophrenia is caused by genetics only.
The exact cause of schizophrenia is undetermined, but research has proven that schizophrenia is caused by some combination of genetic and environmental factors. Twin studies show that the twin of a schizophrenic person has only a 48% chance of developing the disease.
Myth: Schizophrenia develops rapidly.
Schizophrenia is a disorder that progresses slowly. The average starting age of development of schizophrenia is 19 and rarely occurs in children. Many people mistake the acute or active phase, as being the initial phase of schizophrenia. In the year before, mild symptoms begin appearing in the primordial, or first, phase.
Myth: Antipsychotics are worse than the disease itself.
Antipsychotics can have very unpleasant side effects, but doctors monitor for the more serious ones—notably those administered in high dosages over prolonged periods of time. The alternative to antipsychotic drugs is suffering for months or week at a time from positive symptoms: paranoia, delusions, hallucinations, disorganized thoughts, breaks with reality and difficulty functioning. Without treatment, schizophrenia is often completely debilitating.
Myth: Individuals with schizophrenia can never regain normal functioning.
While it is true that participation in a treatment plan can be difficult, individuals with schizophrenia can function normally in society. Many individuals will finish school, maintain employment and experience few relapses.
Myth: All people with schizophrenia need to be institutionalized.
Most people with schizophrenia don’t need to be institutionalized. It’s actually better for a patient to establish a proper treatment plan and live with family members who are supportive. The prognosis is much better for those who have understanding and support. This can’t be replicated in an institutional setting.