We’ve all heard horror stories of people who suffer from schizophrenia and what their condition can encompass. There are even numerous mainstream movies about schizophrenia, and sometimes, these forms of publicity actually contribute to further negative stigma regarding the disorder.
With this in mind, it is very important to first define schizophrenia. The DSM-IV is a complex manual for diagnosing mental health disorders, and full diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia can be found here. A condensed version describing the disorder would look something like this: chronic, severe, disorder of the brain where individuals hear voices (hallucinations) or see things that aren’t there (delusions). Also, these persons have an impaired ability to think, and body movements may be unusual or agitated (catatonia, for example). They find minimal pleasure in life, and they are not socially involved. These symptoms usually present in late adolescence or early adulthood (NIMH).
As a mental health professional with 10 years in the field, I believe that most people in the general public are not fully aware of what schizophrenia actually is… or is not… In light of Schizophrenia Awareness Day, I have created a list of five things most people do not know about the disorder.
1. Many Schizophrenics Will Self-Medicate
Sadly, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that many individuals with schizophrenia use recreational drugs and alcohol. Generally, these are used as a form of suppression in order to combat their symptoms (i.e. hallucinations, delusions, flat affect, lack of pleasure, etc). There are numerous studies that confirm this, but check out Kosten & Ziedonis’s report for more information.
2. Not All Schizophrenics Are Dangerous
Individuals with schizophrenia can be terrified of their thoughts. They have great difficulty separating real from imagined, and they often believe that others mean them harm. As a result, these persons can be defensive and aggressive due to their paranoia. However, most who suffer from this disorder are not violent (HelpGuide), especially if they are being treated with therapy and medication (Eliminating Barriers.)
3. Most People Who Have Schizophrenia Do Not Realize They Have a Mental Disorder
Many schizophrenics are not aware of their condition. They may realize that something isn’t quite “right,” but they may not be able to specifically attribute it to the symptoms of schizophrenia.
4. Schizophrenia is Not the Same As Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly Multiple Personality Disorder
Schizophrenics do not have multiple or split personalities, and the diagnostic criteria for DID is drastically different from schizophrenia. Individuals with DID can grow to embrace their different personalities, and many learn to function with them. Schizophrenics generally do not recognize the voices they hear, and this can cause significant trouble for the individual (credit Grohol).
5. Many Symptoms Can Be Improved with Psychotropic Medications and Psychosocial Therapy
Treatment is usually a lifelong commitment, but if the individual is cooperative, medications and psychosocial therapy can be effective. Psychotropic medication can be very useful in eliminating positive schizophrenic symptoms, while psychosocial therapy is better suited for the negative symptoms of schizophrenia (see Mayo Clinic).
Schizophrenia is a serious mental health condition that requires tremendous effort and support to improve. Yet, with the assistance of mental health professionals and the patient’s loved ones, it is possible for the schizophrenic to regain a more meaningful and enriched life.