Removing the stigma of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Sadly, there is often a negative stigma associated with schizophrenia.

People with this diagnosis are commonly misrepresented in society. As an example, it is often represented in movies and TV that people with schizophrenia will have multiple personalities or are likely to be prone to violence or negative behaviour.

However, while schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behaviour that impairs daily functioning, with treatment, individuals can live fulfilling and rewarding lives.

Read on to learn about the myths and the realities of living with schizophrenia.

Myth: Those diagnosed with schizophrenia have split or multiple personalities

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder where the person can lose touch with their reality. Schizophrenia has different presentations and is significantly different to dissociative identity disorder (more commonly associated with multiple/ alternate personalities).

The meaning of the term ‘schizo’ means to ‘split’, but it refers to a person’s ability to separate themselves from the real world, their ability to express emotions and form coherent thoughts.

Myth: People with schizophrenia have violent tendencies

There is a slightly higher rate of aggression among people with schizophrenia this can occur due to a person responding to the delusions and hallucinations that is real to them which can be very frightening causing the person to respond in a manner to save themselves from a perceived danger, or in a way that they have been commanded or forced to act. However, in some cases that increased risk may be due to substance use rather than schizophrenia itself.

Instead of being the perpetrators of violence, people with schizophrenia are often the victim of violent crimes. They also tend to struggle more to have the social benefits that most of us have, such as living in low socio-economic communities, may be homeless or staying in a shelter, where they may be singled out and assaulted.

Myth: People with schizophrenia cannot live meaningful and fulfilling lives

People with schizophrenia differ greatly in the severity of their symptoms, individual circumstances and life situations. It’s true that some people with schizophrenia struggle. However, many individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia thrive. They have jobs, families, and fulfilling hobbies. The key to living well with schizophrenia, or any chronic illness, is to have the right support network, find the right treatment and stick with it.

Myth: Schizophrenia is pretty much the same in everyone

Symptoms vary greatly among people with the condition. Some see or hear things that aren’t there (positive symptoms), while others have difficulties paying attention, remembering information, and staying motivated (negative symptoms. People may experience different symptoms at different times, and the severity of the symptoms varies among individuals. When thinking about schizophrenia, the key is to realise that every individual is a unique individual.

Myth: Schizophrenia is manipulative behaviour people can choose not to give in to it

Whilst people may recognise their early warning signs, psychotic episodes are not something you “will your way” into or out of. As with all hallucinations and delusions, there is a change in the brain’s biochemical activity which causes these sensory and perceptual changes.

What can I do to support my loved one?

Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders are defined by abnormalities in one or more of the following five domains: delusions, hallucinations, disorganised thinking, grossly disorganised or abnormal motor behaviour (including catatonia or movement agitation), and negative symptoms (low motivation, reduced facial or spoken expression, difficulty thinking, problems starting tasks etc).

Here’s how to support someone that is diagnosed with psychosis or Schizophrenia:

  • Educate yourself
  • Reduce stress
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Empower the person that they are capable
  • Seek treatment and provide the person with options
  • Build support network
  • Recognise your own limits and practice self-care
  • Join a support group
  • Monitor medication and side effects
  • Watch for early warning signs of relapse
  • Have a crisis management plan such as contact information of doctors, therapists and hospitals

For more information on understanding mental health, be sure to speak with a qualified Psychologist or Mental Health OT, or you can phone the friendly team at Recovery Station to schedule an appointment at 1300 588 851.

Until next time,

Side Note: Please note that the information given above is general in nature; please consult your physician or therapist if you have any particular questions.