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Schizophrenia Myths and Facts

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 27, 2020

There's a lot of incorrect info out there about schizophrenia. Some of it is spread by movies or TV shows. Or sometimes, people use stereotypes when talking about this mental illness.

Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder that affects your ability to think and act clearly. When you have schizophrenia, your brain often tells you you’re seeing things or hearing voices that aren’t there. This makes it hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. It also affects how well you think, make decisions, and manage your emotions.

Around 1% of people in the U.S. have schizophrenia. It affects men and women equally. Women tend to get schizophrenia in their 20s or 30s. Men tend to get it in their late teens to early 20s. It’s rare in kids younger than 12. And it usually doesn’t appear for the first time in adults over 40.

If you get schizophrenia, you might have:

  • Delusions, or false beliefs that don’t change, even when you’re given new ideas and facts
  • A hard time remembering things
  • Disordered thoughts
  • Hallucinations, or hearing voices, seeing things, or smelling things others can’t
  • Lack of emotion in your face or voice
  • Problems focusing
  • Trouble understanding information and making decisions

Commonly, people with schizophrenia don’t know they have it, which can make treatment much more challenging.

Get the real story behind some common myths.

Myth No. 1: It means you have multiple personalities. This is one of the biggest misunderstandings about schizophrenia. One poll found that 64% of Americans believe the condition involves a split personality, which means someone acts like they're two separate people.

Some of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia are hallucinations and delusions, which include hearing voices in your head and acting on false beliefs. This isn’t the same as multiple personality disorder, or, more accurately, dissociative identity disorder (DID).

A person with schizophrenia doesn't have two different personalities. Instead, they have false ideas or have lost touch with reality. Multiple personality disorder is unrelated.

Myth No. 2: Most people with schizophrenia are violent or dangerous. In movies and TV shows, who is the crazed killer? Often it's the character with this condition. That's not the case in real life.

Even though people with schizophrenia can act unpredictably at times, most aren't violent, especially if they're getting treated. People with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence. They’re also more likely to harm themselves than others -- suicide rates among people with schizophrenia are high.

When people with this brain disorder do commit violent acts, they usually have another condition, like childhood conduct problems or substance abuse. But the disorder alone doesn’t make you physically aggressive.

Myth No. 3: Bad parenting is the cause. Mothers, in particular, often get blamed.

But schizophrenia is a mental illness. It has many causes, including genes, trauma, and drug abuse. Mistakes you've made as a parent won't give your child this condition.

Myth No. 4: If a parent has schizophrenia, you'll get it, too. Genes do play a role. But just because one of your parents has this mental illness doesn't mean you're destined to get it. You might have a slightly higher risk, but scientists don’t think genes are the only cause. Certain viruses, not getting enough nutrition before you’re born, and other things play a role in turning on the genes.

If one parent has schizophrenia, your risk of getting the condition is about 10%. Having more than one family member with it raises your risk.

Myth No. 5: People with schizophrenia aren’t smart. Some studies have found that people with the condition have more trouble on tests of mental skills such as attention, learning, and memory. But that doesn't mean they're not intelligent.

Many creative and smart people throughout history have had schizophrenia, such as Russian ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky and Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. Scientists are even looking into links between genes that may be related to both psychosis and creativity.

Myth No. 6: If you have schizophrenia, you belong in a mental hospital. There was a time when people with mental illnesses were sent to asylums or even prisons. But now that experts know more about this disease, fewer people need to be placed in long-term mental health facilities.

The level of care you need depends on how severe your symptoms are. Most people with schizophrenia live independently with family or in supportive housing in the community. It’s important to be in close contact with your doctor, and to have support in place to help you continue your treatment as needed.

Myth No. 7: You can't hold a job if you have it. Schizophrenia can make it harder for you to land a job and go to work every day. But with the right treatment, many people can find a position that fits their skills and abilities.

Myth No. 8: Schizophrenia makes people lazy. The illness can make it harder for someone to take care of their daily needs, such as dressing and bathing. This doesn’t mean they're "lazy." They just need some help with their daily routine.

Myth No. 9: It comes on with a sudden psychotic break.

Fact: Some people have a big mental event that leads to a schizophrenia diagnosis. But symptoms can appear over time and are hard to notice. If you have early symptoms of schizophrenia, you might:

  • Be less social
  • Show less interest in normal activities
  • Withdraw from everyday life

Other symptoms, like acting out delusions and hallucinating, can show up later.

Myth No. 10: You can never recover from it. Schizophrenia can be hard to treat, but it's not impossible. Antipsychotic medications help stabilize you, and lower the risk of future symptoms. Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are also helpful tools that can show you how to handle stress better and live well.

With the right medicine and therapy, about 25% of people with this disease will recover completely. Another 50% will see some improvement in their symptoms. Many people with the condition can live full, productive lives.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: "Schizophrenia," “Dissociative Disorders.”

Current Directions in Psychological Science: “Cognitive Functioning and Disability in Schizophrenia.”

Psychological Science: “Genes for psychosis and creativity: a promoter polymorphism of the neuregulin 1 gene is related to creativity in people with high intellectual achievement.”

National Institute of Mental Health: "What is schizophrenia?" “Schizophrenia.”

Schizophrenia and Related Disorders Alliance of America: "About Schizophrenia."

University of North Carolina: "Myths About Mental Illness."

University of Michigan Health System: "Schizophrenia."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Schizophrenia."

American Journal of Public Health: “Community Violence Perpetration and Victimization Among Adults With Mental Illnesses.”

American Psychiatric Association: “What is Schizophrenia?”

American Psychological Association: “Recognizing the Signs of Schizophrenia.”

Annals of General Psychiatry: “Suicide risk in schizophrenia: learning from the past to change the future.”

Canadian Psychiatric Association: “Schizophrenia: The Journey to Recovery, A Consumer and Family Guide to Assessment and Treatment.”

HealthyWomen: “Schizophrenia.”

PLOS Medicine: “Schizophrenia and Violence: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.”

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