Schizophrenia Awareness Day is on May 24, and it is the perfect time to demystify schizophrenia. Thanks to schizophrenia’s negative connotation and the way it’s presented in the media, there are many misconceptions about the illness. Read on for five myths about schizophrenia and the real story behind the disorder.
MYTH: It’s hard to tell if you will ever develop schizophrenia.
FACT: Schizophrenia is genetic and runs in families. The illness occurs in 1 percent of the population yet shows up in 10 percent of people who have a first degree relative (mother, father, sister, brother) who has the disorder according to the National Institute on Mental Health. The National Institute on Mental Health also reports that identical twins fare worse, with a sibling having a 40 to 65 chance of having the disorder if their identical twin has it.
MYTH: Only “negative” symptoms are bad.
FACT: The three main grouping of symptoms for schizophrenia are known as “positive,” “negative,” and “cognitive,” and no one is “worse” than another. “Positive” symptoms are those that should not be there, such as hallucinations and delusions. “Negative” symptoms are those that should be present, like a flat affect and avolition, or disregard for personal hygiene and a lack of interest in daily activities. “Cognitive” symptoms refer to patterns in thoughts, such as disorganized thoughts and an inability to remember information or experiences (Psychcentral.com: Tartakovsky, “Schizophrenia Fact Sheet”).
MYTH: Atypical antipsychotics are scarier than other types of medication
FACT: Atypical antipsychotics are considered “second generation” antipsychotics and are no more or less severe than the first generation. They are considered “atypical” because they have a different mechanism for action than first generation antipsychotics. These medications are often the first line of treatment for someone with schizophrenia. Atypical antipsychotics that are prescribed for schizophrenia are clozapine (Clozaril), Risperidone (Risperdal), and Quetiapine (Seroquel), among others, according to the National Institute on Mental Health.
MYTH: Only men get schizophrenia
FACT: Schizophrenia affects both men and women. Although the disorder does affect men more than women (there is a risk ration of 1.4:1 percent for men versus women, according to Oxford Journals), women can still develop the disorder. Women are more likely to develop schizophrenia later in life than men, who are more prone to developing a more severe form than women earlier in life.
MYTH: If you get schizophrenia, your life is over.
FACT: Many people with schizophrenia are capable of living a high-functioning life. Schizophrenia is not a doom and gloom diagnosis, although it is a very serious illness. By learning coping skills and recognizing illness triggers, people with schizophrenia can be chaired law professors, graduate students, physicians, managers, and chief executives, as Elyn R. Saks wrote in a New York Times editorial.
There is much hope for people with schizophrenia, and smashing stigma starts with sorting out the myths from the facts.