Few people really understand this severe mental health condition – and the stigma attached to schizophrenia remains so great that the illness itself is often used as a throwaway insult! Here we demolish the untruths surrounding a disorder that affects millions worldwide
We’ve all felt paranoia at some point in our lives, those days when it feels that even the plants are out to get us. We’ve all suffered from delusions, too, whether it’s the teen musician hoping to be the next superstar, or the school crush where love is unrequited.
We all know how unpleasant these fleeting blows are, yet for those of us diagnosed with schizophrenia, delusions and paranoia are the daily treadmill we walk on.
I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2009, after a hospitalisation. It may surprise you that I, too, wasn’t immune to the myths and misunderstandings about this illness, and didn’t know what to expect. But, over time, I came to read up about the condition and get more savvy.
Simply put, schizophrenia is a severe mental illness where people experience psychosis for the longer term. People with schizophrenia often lose touch with reality, see visions, hear voices, or experience delusions.
Sometimes, the stigma of schizophrenia is worse than a good day actually living with it. I’ve lost friends, and can count quite a few people who are scared of me. Of course, this is completely unjustified – schizophrenia can be treated with antipsychotic medication, and managed as an outpatient by a mental health community team. With this care in place, people diagnosed with schizophrenia can go on to be re-diagnosed with less severe conditions, hold down jobs and relationships, and live meaningful lives.
So, in case you missed the memo, here are eight myths about schizophrenia that are simply untrue:
1. MYTH: People with schizophrenia are violent
Research has established that people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of crime, rather than perpetrators. Sadly, the public’s prejudices will continue, as the media still chooses to report the rare incidences where a person unwell with schizophrenia has committed a crime. For most people experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, the experience itself is terrifying, so it seems ironic the terror the diagnosis can provoke in some people.
2. MYTH: Having schizophrenia means you’re a bad person
We’ve all seen on Twitter, or heard down the pub, people speculating that someone has some sort of schizophrenia – and it’s not a description that’s intended to be flattering. You wouldn’t use ‘cancer-sufferer’ or ‘wheelchair-user’ as a derogatory comment to insult others, so why use schizophrenia? Another prime example of stigma I’ve experienced is feeling like I’m not always being listened to or heard by medical professionals. For example, if they ask if we’re feeling suicidal, and in our notes, if we’ve said no, they write: “Denies feeling suicidal.” It can feel like we’re not believed when we say we’re doing OK.