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11 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Schizophrenia

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Most people have heard of schizophrenia and have a picture in their heads of what it looks like — but few people truly understand what life with schizophrenia is really like. Schizophrenia is a chronic mental illness that causes disruptions to your sense of reality (this includes symptoms like hallucinations and delusions), reduced expression of emotions and feelings of pleasure, and cognitive challenges. Schizophrenia is often sensationalized, meaning symptoms like hearing voices are emphasized while other common symptoms, like difficulty concentrating and expressing emotion, are rarely discussed. As a result, people tend to have an inaccurate idea of schizophrenia and may make assumptions that lead to misunderstandings and stigma.

By talking openly about the misconceptions people have about schizophrenia, and the truth behind this misunderstood condition, hopefully we can help those in the schizophrenia community find more support and compassion, and less judgment and fear. We asked our Mighty community to share something everyone tends to get wrong about schizophrenia, and the truth they wish people knew instead.

Let us know in the comments what else you wish people understood about schizophrenia, and share this article to help educate others. It’s time to bust these outdated myths.

Here are the truths that our Mighty community shared with us:

1. Portrayals of schizophrenia in media aren’t always accurate.

When schizophrenia is portrayed in movies or TV shows, it tends to revolve around violent imagery, psychiatric hospitals, and the overall sense that individuals with schizophrenia are dangers to society. If all you know about schizophrenia is what you see on TV, you might think hearing voices, delusions and hallucinations about wanting to hurt others or yourself are the only symptoms, and that everyone with schizophrenia experiences these symptoms in the same way. In fact, schizophrenia is associated with a wide range of symptoms, and many people with schizophrenia live typical lives.

“I think there’s a general misconception that schizophrenia is like what’s portrayed on TV. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s version can fall very short in terms of depicting the vast spectrum of severity and symptoms that this illness encompasses.” — Kelly W.

2. Schizophrenia isn’t caused by “sin.”

Like other mental illnesses, schizophrenia is sometimes believed to be caused by the individual’s own “bad behavior.” Of course, this is completely untrue. The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but experts believe a combination of genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors contribute to a person developing schizophrenia. It is not a “punishment” for something specific you chose to do.

“That schizophrenia is due to sin or God’s punishment… which is what my pastor thinks. That archaic way of thinking needs to disappear… the cause of the illness needs to find more public awareness.” — Nicole E.

3. People with schizophrenia aren’t inherently “dangerous.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception about schizophrenia is that people living with it are scary and a danger to others. However, studies have shown that people with schizophrenia are actually more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators.

“It is wrong to think people with schizophrenia are dangerous. People with schizophrenia think differently so they need a chance to be understood.” — Heidi M.

“People believe that schizophrenic people are dangerous and they confuse them with psychopaths. People assume that they are going to harm them and that they are somehow controlled by evilness! Which is far from the truth.” — Ermolia P.

4. Hallucinations and voices feel very real to the person experiencing them.

When someone without schizophrenia is watching or interacting with someone experiencing schizophrenia-induced hallucinations, it might seem obvious that the hallucinations aren’t real. But the hallucinations and voices do feel extremely real to them — they are really hearing and seeing things. As you would expect, this can be very scary. As Mighty contributor Josie Thorhill described:

My hallucinations followed me wherever I went. I thought the world was a scary place. I thought bad people stalked me, that they were trying to kill me. I couldn’t sleep at night. I couldn’t understand how everyone else was okay all the time. I lived in a nightmare.

“Schizophrenia doesn’t make someone dangerous. It doesn’t make them violent. But everything is very real! While you may not be able to see the hallucinations or hear the voices, to the schizophrenic person it is all very, very real! And can truly be terrifying! Learn about it, give a little love and compassion. Some of the best people (who are brilliant, talented, loving, inventive, kind) have schizophrenia. Trust me, you’ll learn something!” — Sabrina M.

“To the person with schizophrenia it’s all real, it’s not hallucinations, it’s not being ‘crazy,’ it’s truly their reality.” — Jenn C.

5. Schizophrenia is not the same thing as dissociative identity disorder.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly called multiple personality disorder) is often confused for schizophrenia, but the two conditions are distinct. In DID, the individual develops different personalities, each with their own mannerisms and backstories. A person with DID may or may not realize when they are switching between different personalities. Most people with DID have experienced trauma, which may cause them to start dissociating.

With schizophrenia, the individual does not adopt different personalities. Instead, they hear voices and perhaps see other “people” who talk to them, without “taking over” the core personality. Unlike DID, schizophrenia is not caused by trauma.

“People think schizophrenia is multiple personalities.” — Abby B.

6. People with schizophrenia still have feelings, just like anyone else.

This should be obvious, but we’ll say it anyway: People with schizophrenia can still feel happy, sad, anxious and get their feelings hurt, just like anyone else. They still have likes and dislikes, hobbies and passions and want to live a normal life. It’s important that people see their loved ones as more than just “schizophrenia.”

“Everyone thinks we’re violent people but we’re not. I wish they knew that we might be a little different than they are but we’re still people with feelings just like them who just want to be accepted.” — Roxanne B.

7. Many people with schizophrenia are unaware of their diagnosis.

A common symptom of schizophrenia is an inability to understand that you have the condition. This can make it extremely difficult to accept treatment because you simply don’t believe you need it. If you’re ever confused about why a person with schizophrenia might not want to take their medication, consider how difficult it would be to follow a treatment plan if you think the doctors are trying to give you medication for an illness you don’t have.

“People don’t understand that half of those with bipolar or schizophrenia suffer with anosognosia, which means they completely lack awareness of the illness. Imagine having cancer and doctors want you to do surgery — chemo but you refuse because you don’t believe you have cancer. So stop judging by saying why don’t they just take their meds or get off the street as often they are unaware of the illness. Get to know some of these people, they are some of the nicest, kindest individuals you’ll ever meet.” — John R.

8. Schizophrenia causes “positive” symptoms, symptoms those without schizophrenia usually don’t have, and “negative” symptoms, the absence of characteristics usually present in people without schizophrenia.

When most people think of schizophrenia, they think of what’s known as “positive” symptoms. This includes delusions, hearing voices, hallucinations, paranoia and distorted perceptions — behaviors that aren’t present in healthy people. However, schizophrenia also includes “negative” symptoms, such as the inability to initiate plans and express emotions — a lack of behaviors typically seen in healthy people.

“Schizophrenia isn’t just made up of positive symptoms, like hallucinations and delusions, but negative symptoms too such as lack of motivation and attention difficulties, which are just as hard to deal with.” — Joseph R.

9. Hallucinations themselves aren’t always scary.

Based on schizophrenia portrayals in media, you might think hallucinations always consist of scary figures trying to convince you to hurt yourself or others. While many people with schizophrenia do experience terrifying hallucinations, you could also hallucinate things that aren’t inherently scary. As Mighty contributor Lukas Allen described:

Sometimes the voices say good things or bad things, sometimes different voices say different things, or one voice says helpful and unhelpful things. Split them apart into good and bad, light and dark, and — most importantly — as useful and useless.

“Sometimes the hallucinations aren’t bad at all and it can seem like you’re talking to a normal stranger.” — Julia C.

10. If a person with schizophrenia hears voices telling them to hurt someone, that doesn’t mean they will do it.

While people with schizophrenia may hear voices encouraging them to hurt themselves or someone else, research shows they aren’t more likely to be violent than anyone else.

“Even if someone has delusions where they hear someone/something telling them to harm others, it doesn’t mean they’ll act on it.” — Sam C.

11. People with schizophrenia are strong for facing their symptoms and challenges every day.

It takes so much strength to keep fighting through every day with schizophrenia — especially considering the stigma and difficulties accessing support and effective treatment. If you have schizophrenia, know that you are strong for all that you cope with on a daily basis.

“I wish people with schizophrenia knew how strong and inspirational they really are. I wish everybody knew the battles they face daily and the mountains of (what may be to some people) little accomplishments they achieve. The world would be a much nicer place with just that little bit of understanding.” — Kerry D.

For more insight on the reality of life with schizophrenia, check out these stories from our Mighty community:

Originally published: January 27, 2020
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