Mythbusting Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a word that inspires fascinated fear in many of us. In popular vernacular, it’s become a catchall for any kind of “crazy” behavior. Popular media has long capitalized on the more sensational aspects of schizophrenia, and the condition is further veiled in mystery simply because it’s a condition that we don’t know that much about. The causes, exact way that it functions in the mind and body, and ways to best treat it are confusing and varied.

It makes sense that we’re so fascinated and mystified by it. After all, what’s scarier than not being able to trust your own brain, or to be attacked by your own thoughts?

However, thanks to the hype surrounding the condition, most of us have crazy misconceptions about it. Here are some myths surrounding schizophrenia, followed by the real facts.

Myth #1: It’s Super Rare
This is somewhat true. Considering how popularly known it is, it affects a relatively small number of people. However, that number is probably far larger than you think. 2.4 million Americans have schizophrenia, a little over 1%. That means that out of 100 people of your acquaintance, the odds are pretty high that one person suffers from this challenge.

These numbers are surprising because we tend to assume that schizophrenia is immediately apparent, and compromises your ability to cope in normal life. However, that’s not always the case. Schizophrenia can range from mild to severe and patients can go for very long times without any episodes whatsoever. With medication and counseling, it’s very possible for patients to live perfectly functional lives.

Myth #2: If You Have It, You’re Institutionalized
As stated above, many patients with schizophrenia live normal lives. Although severe episodes call for institutionalization, it’s usually temporary. Psychiatric institutions are usually only necessary when a patient is a danger either to him/herself or to others, which is only an issue in a percentage of cases.

Usually, schizophrenia is treated with a twofold plan wherein antipsychotics are carefully moderated, and one-on-one counseling allows the patient to set goals and learn coping techniques and ways to recognize triggers that can cause episodes.

Myth #3: It Makes You See and Believe Outrageous Things
Yes, one of the symptoms of schizophrenia is delusions, and another is hallucinations. However, there are many different symptoms and ways that it can manifest, too.

Schizophrenia symptoms are grouped into three categories. Positive symptoms (or ones that are added on to normal behavior) include hallucinations, delusions, thought and movement disorders. Negative symptoms (or things that are lacking from normal behavior) are difficulty speaking, “flat affect” or (minimized and reduced reactions), and reduced pleasure in everyday things. Additional symptoms can include poor executive functioning, impaired working memory, and trouble focusing. People undergoing an episode of schizophrenia may not be acting out at all. Rather, they might appear unresponsive and even catatonic for long periods of time.

Even when an individual exhibits delusions and/or hallucinations, they can be hard to distinguish from reality, even for friends of the patient who don’t suffer from the disorder themselves. For example, it’s easy to know that if your friend believes that he or she is communicating with aliens, that he or she might be suffering from a disorder. However, the same person passionately believing that his or her spouse is cheating will be harder to discern as a delusion.

While we’re on the subject, let’s address one more huge misconception: schizophrenia is NOT the same as multiple personality disorder. They’re two different things. Because schizophrenia is something that manifests itself in many different ways, it’s actually been called a spectrum disorder (much like autism). Here are some specific disorders that are part of the spectrum:

  • Paranoid Schizophrenia (wherein a person often think that someone is out to get them, and highly suspicious of others)
  • Disorganized Schizophrenia (manifests itself by very disconnected speech and thought patterns that are hard to follow)
  • Catatonic Schizophrenia (wherein a person is unresponsive and mute for no apparent reason)
  • Schizoaffective Disorder (where symptoms of schizophrenia are paired with another mental disorder, like depression)

Myth #4: It’s Caused Solely By Genetics
This one is actually part true. Yes, there is a genetic link in schizophrenia. It’s often seen to run in family patterns. However, it’s not as simple as having a gene or not having it. Many people with schizophrenia have no family members who suffer from the disorder at all. And those who do suffer from schizophrenia can have children free and clear of the disorder. Schizophrenia seems to be an interaction of genetics and environmental factors. For example, you could be more at risk if you suffered from complications during birth, or development impairs during pregnancy. It can also be correlated with extreme trauma, and even drug use.

While medical scientists are still trying to find the exact underlying cause and impaired functionality that leads to schizophrenia, this much is clear: it’s not caused by bad parenting, a lack of self-control, or childhood experiences.

If you believe that someone you know suffers from schizophrenia, do your part to encourage them to be actively involved in seeking professional help. It can be an intensely lonely and scary experience, but with help and proper management, those suffering from schizophrenia can have normal, functional, and happy lives.


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