Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects about two million Americans. It’s best known symptoms are auditory and visual hallucinations, but other symptoms include delusional thinking, disordered or incoherent thinking or speech, social withdrawal, or diminished affect in speech or facial expressions. Although most people know something about schizophrenia, many people misunderstand the condition, leading them to treat people with schizophrenia with fear and suspicion. Here are some common myths about schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia means having multiple personalities.
People often confuse schizophrenia with dissociative identity disorder, sometimes called multiple personality disorder, in which one person will have several personalities, who may or may not be aware of what the others are up to. Dissociative identity disorder is controversial and is typically associated with severe childhood abuse. Schizophrenia, on the other hand, appears to be primarily genetic, and while people with schizophrenia may exhibit strange behavior or memory impairment, unstable identity is not a symptom of schizophrenia.
People with schizophrenia are dangerous.
The myth that people with schizophrenia are dangerous is perhaps the most problematic myth about the condition. Schizophrenia is often blamed for any violent or erratic behavior. In reality, schizophrenics are about as likely as the general population to commit violent crimes, and of people with schizophrenia who do commit violent crimes, the condition is only related to the crime in about 23 percent of cases. However, schizophrenics are about 100 times more likely than the general population to die by suicide.
Hallucinations are the primary characteristic of schizophrenia.
While hallucinations are the most dramatic feature of schizophrenia, they aren’t actually the most common and more people experience auditory hallucinations than visual hallucinations. Delusional thinking is extremely common. For example, someone with schizophrenia might believe someone on TV is talking directly to him, or that someone in the coffee shop is putting thoughts in his head. Many people with schizophrenia have diminished emotional responses. Disorganized thinking is also common, such as giving irrelevant answers to questions, or stringing meaningless words together.
People with schizophrenia can’t live normal lives.
When people imagine schizophrenics, they likely imagine them living in one of three ways: under the permanent care of a parent or other relative, in an institution, or homeless. While a tragic number of people with schizophrenia do end up homeless or in prison, only the people with the most severe symptoms have to be institutionalized. Many people with schizophrenia can live on their own and hold down jobs. Treatment for schizophrenia has improved considerably over the years, allowing more people to live better lives with the help of medication and therapy. This is especially true of women. Because of the later onset of symptoms, women with schizophrenia are more likely to have begun careers and families, which means they often enjoy more social support and less isolation.
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