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The Stigma Surrounding Schizophrenia

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on April 21, 2022

Schizophrenia is one of the most complicated and destabilizing mental disorders. At the same time, it can be highly treatable and it’s possible for you to make a meaningful recovery.

Yet deep stigma against schizophrenia and mental illness in general still persists around the world. That prejudice can be as obvious as calling someone “crazy” or “insane.” Or it can be more subtle, such as discrimination against job applicants who have schizophrenia. Stigma in any form can be harmful.

Types of Stigma

Some people hold negative or false beliefs about schizophrenia. Stigma can come from:

Media. Movies, TV shows, and news reports often portray people with mental illness as violent or out of control. Violent behavior is more common among people with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, compared to the general population. But those cases make up only a tiny share of the overall violence in society.

In fact, people with mental illness are much more likely to be victimized by violence than they are to carry out violence.

Popular culture often portrays people with mental illness as one-dimensional beings. Films might make little distinction between schizophrenia and split personality, which are different disorders.

Cultural or family prejudice. Some countries and communities regard schizophrenia with shame or shroud it in secrecy. Black Americans, for example, are more likely than people of some other races and ethnicities to view mental illness as embarrassing or a sign of weakness. Only about 1 in 3 Black Americans turn to a social worker, therapist, or psychiatrist for mental health crises. Similar reluctance can be found in groups of people who emphasize masculinity and macho pride.

Your own family and loved ones might blame you for your illness. Instead of offering your compassion and support, they might shun you or even fear you.

Self-stigma. You might secretly or unknowingly hold negative thoughts against yourself. You might believe that your schizophrenia means that you’re incompetent or dangerous or unlovable. This is a form of internalized stigma.

Institutional bias. Employers might hesitate to hire someone with schizophrenia. The police and the law may make little distinction between mental illness and criminal behavior. Research into treatments for schizophrenia don’t attract the same kind of funding as for cancers or some other diseases. These are all forms of systemic stigma that can have direct effects on your life.

How Stigma Can Harm

The stereotypes about schizophrenia can create real barriers, such as:

  • Social isolation
  • Lower self-esteem
  • Trouble finding jobs or housing
  • A hard time forming or keeping close relationships
  • A delay in seeking help, or not getting treatment at all

Sometimes the stigma can become dangerous and lead to bullying, harassment, or physical violence. It also can worsen your mental illness.

Ways to Address Stigma

One of the best ways to fight prejudice is to challenge it. It can be as simple as sharing the story of your schizophrenia with others or getting to know someone with mental illness and learning about their condition. Compassion, honesty, care with language, and self-empowerment are all powerful tools to push back against stigma.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry: “Reducing Stigma in Media Professionals: Is there Room for Improvement?”

BMC Psychiatry: “Effects of stigmatizing media coverage on stigma measures, self-esteem, and affectivity in persons with depression.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Erasing Mental Health Stigma in the Black Community,” “The Strengths and Stigmas of My Culture,” “Why We Need Responsible Representation in the Film Industry.”

University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work: “Why Mental Health Care is Stigmatized in the Black Community.”

Psychiatric Services: “Portrayals of Schizophrenia by Entertainment Media.”

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health: “Commentary: Violence and mental illness: what is the true story?”

American Psychiatric Association: “Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness.”

Rtor.org: “6 Popular Movies that Got Mental Illness Wrong.”

World Health Organization: “Schizophrenia.”

Mental Health Foundation (U.K.): “Stigma and discrimination.”

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