Myths Vs Truths

  • You might already have some preconceptions about schizophrenia, but do you know the myths from the truths?
  • Explore common myths about schizophrenia and the truths behind them.

In this section

MYTH: Schizophrenia is a rare condition

TRUTH: Schizophrenia affects approximately 1 in 100 people over the course of their life, and is not considered rare at all!1 It usually begins in young people ranging between 15 and 30 years of age,2 but it can affect anyone – chances are that you will meet someone living with schizophrenia and you just don’t know it.

MYTH: Schizophrenia is inherited

TRUTH: There have been many studies into the genetic causes of schizophrenia and scientists generally agree that genes are only part of the answer. It is true that, for example, studies in twins show that some genes increase the risk of developing schizophrenia1. In particular, identical twins have exactly the same genes in their bodies and studies have shown that if an identical twin has schizophrenia, their twin has 50% chance of developing schizophrenia too.1 However, there are many people living with schizophrenia who have no family history of the condition and vice versa.2 On the other hand, studies have revealed that biological factors such as paternal age, and environmental factors such as stressful life events, can play just as big a role in the development of schizophrenia as your genes!3

MYTH: People with schizophrenia suffer from the same symptoms

TRUTH: Schizophrenia is a complex condition with many different symptoms. Every person with schizophrenia will have a unique experience and their combination of symptoms will vary.4 Also, the pattern of schizophrenia can vary over time so what a person with schizophrenia might be experiencing at any given moment might be completely different to another who, for example, has been living with the condition for longer. Remember that not all people with schizophrenia will experience the same symptoms so if you think you have or know someone who has a combination of symptoms, which might be related to schizophrenia, seek advice from a professional.

MYTH: Schizophrenia is the same as having a “split personality”

TRUTH: Literally, the Greek translation for schizophrenia means “split mind”, but this was not its intended use, regardless of what movies and pop culture may suggest! Instead, it refers to the specific symptom of hallucinations where people with schizophrenia might experience a ‘split’ from reality. In fact, people with ‘split personalities’ have a completely different diagnosis called dissociative identity disorder, which is commonly confused with schizophrenia.5 Stay informed to know the differences!

MYTH: People with schizophrenia commonly experience hallucinations like in the movies!

TRUTH: The movies always depict crazy behaviours that are of course more dramatic and catch the attention. But this is a stereotype. Hallucinations are considered positive symptoms of schizophrenia; however, people with schizophrenia also have negative symptoms that refer to the loss of some every day functions. Negative symptoms are much more commonplace, but are clearly a lot less dramatic than certain stereotypes propagated by the media make you think. In fact, one study reported that almost 70% of characters with schizophrenia in 41 movies released between 1990 and 2010 had bizarre delusions.6 This is a misrepresentation of the distribution of symptoms, and a stereotype that fuels the misinformation and negative attitudes towards schizophrenia. Know your stuff to avoid the pitfalls!

MYTH: People with schizophrenia may be dangerous and should be institutionalised

TRUTH: It might be true that some people with schizophrenia experience violent behaviours, but these violent behaviours are more common in people that use substances.7 However, violent behaviours and other symptoms of schizophrenia are usually managed well with the right treatment and patient support networks. This means that there is usually no need for institutionalisation and people living with schizophrenia can often integrate seamlessly into society.

MYTH: Drugs for schizophrenia do not work well

TRUTH: Most people with schizophrenia will take antipsychotic drugs to help with symptoms and also receive psychological treatment or talking therapies.8 This combination is more effective than when used alone, but continuous treatment is just as important.8 Although schizophrenia is considered a chronic mental illness with highly variable symptoms, the appropriate early medical support and care can help most people with schizophrenia live long, stable and fulling lives.

References

  1. Royal College of Psychiatrists, Schizophrenia, 2019. https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/schizophrenia [Accessed July 2019]
  2. National Institute of Mental Health, Schizophrenia, 2019. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/schizophrenia/index.shtml [Accessed July 2019]
  3. Brown AS. The environment and susceptibility to schizophrenia. Prog Neurobiol. 2011;93(1):23-58.
  4. Mind, Schizophrenia, 2017. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/schizophrenia/#.XTgrjOhKhhE [Accessed July 2019]
  5. Canadian Mental Health Association, What’s the difference between dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder) and schizophrenia? 2015. https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/q-and-a/whats-the-difference-between-dissociative-identity-disorder-and-schizophrenia [Accessed July 2019]
  6. Owen PR. Portrayals of schizophrenia by entertainment media: a content analysis of contemporary movies. Psychiatr Serv. 2012;63(7):655-9
  7. Walsh E, Buchanan A, Fahy T. Violence and schizophrenia: examining the evidence. Br J Psychiatry. 2002;180:490-5
  8. NICE, Psychosis and schizophrenia in adults: prevention and management, Clinical Guidance CG178, 2014. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg178/chapter/1-Recommendations#first-episode-psychosis-2 [Accessed July 2019]
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