mental health · mental illness · misconceptions · schizophrenia · stigma

Schizophrenia misconceptions: crazy, dangerous, hopeless…

I have recently been employed as a support worker in a supported living environment for people diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Since working here, I have become very aware of many misconceptions about Schizophrenia as a mental illness so have decided to address them here.

1. People with Schizophrenia are dangerous.

A lot of people have shown concern that I am working with people with Schizophrenia because they fear that they are dangerous. They have heard stories of Schizophrenics being violent and aggressive. It is true that sometimes people with Schizophrenia behave in this way. However, it is not always the case and is not something that happens to everyone diagnosed. Having this illness can be very distressing, many people have voices telling them to do things and do have the potential to act violently because of this. These voices are actually more likely to tell someone to harm themselves. There are many people with Schizophrenia who have no history of and would never be aggressive in any way. In simple terms, having Schizophrenia does not mean that someone will go around attacking people.Those who I work with are all much more likely to isolate themselves when struggling rather than act out.

2. It’s easy to see who has Schizophrenia.

It’s commonly believed that those with Schizophrenia act outwardly ‘crazy’ a lot of the time. Meaning that they talk to the voices in their heads all the time or are rocking back and forth in the corner. This is not true. Although, as with many mental illnesses, symptoms can manifest themselves physically and can be noticeably, this is not always how it happens. You cannot see Schizophrenia written on someone’s face. Plus, people who act ‘crazy’ might not necessarily have any mental illness at all. Schizophrenia can cause erratic behaviour but it can also cause someone to be very apathetic and quiet. Schizophrenics can look and act and be like anyone else. Just like other mental illnesses, it can happen to anyone.

3.  People with Schizophrenia must know that there is something wrong with them.

I have met a lot of people who have very little insight into their illness. This is not just denial but flat out disbelief that they have a mental illness. People often see some odd behaviours and think that the person surely realises that they are not well. But people with Schizophrenia have a difficult time distinguishing between their delusions and reality. They can experience a lot of paranoia and often believe that their ‘diagnosis’ is part of a wider plot against them. Essentially, no, sometimes people with Schizophrenia do not understand that they are unwell so failure to accept treatment is not as simple as it may seem.

4. Schizophrenia will never get better.

Again, not true. People often believe this because they understand the severity of the illness. It is a serious mental illness that has a huge impact on people’s lives. There is not a set cure. There is a lot of treatment available – different medications, therapies and such. It can take a long time to find something that works but it is possible to ease the symptoms of this mental illness. People with schizophrenia can go on and live perfectly fulfilled and ‘normal’ lives. They are not doomed to being in hospital forever. Additionally, not all treatment requires hospitalisation.

5. People with Schizophrenia have multiple personalities. 

This is often thought to be true because people are aware that Schizophrenia causes people to hear voices and behave differently from day to day. But this is not due to having multiple personalities. That is an entirely different mental illness. They also do not have split personalities. It may appear like multiple people are in this one person but this is due to other symptoms rather than actually having multiple personalities.

These misconceptions are harmful. They feed into ideas that people with Schizophrenia are ‘crazy’ and have no hope. This is simply not true. There is hope and people with Schizophrenia should not be feared or ridiculed any more than those without it. Schizophrenia is a very complex illness but taking the time to understand it is important. Around 1% of the population will be diagnose with Schizophrenia. The media and society have a responsible to make sure Schizophrenics will not face discrimination and stigma for their mental illness.

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