From Myths To Facts: Dispelling Misconceptions About Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness with a significant negative impact on thought processes, emotional processing, and behaviour patterns

Schizophrenia is a chronic brain disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, bizarre behaviour, reduced attention, concentration, and memory etc. As per WHO, approx. 24 million people are inflicted with schizophrenia worldwide. According to the study "Burden of mental disorders across the States of India 1990-2017", 3.5 million people were reported to be affected with schizophrenia in 2017.

Those suffering from this grave illness not only battle with multiple physical illnesses like diabetes, obesity, hypertension etc. but they also have a high risk of depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, injury, and suicide. Unmanaged or poorly managed cases often succumb to marked disability in various domains of life including personal, family, social, educational and occupation domains. Despite being a source of marked distress most patients are not brought to mental health professionals for adequate management owing to discrimination, stigmatization, lack of awareness, myths and misconceptions surrounding this illness.

Myth: Schizophrenia means multiple personalities.

Fact: Though patients with schizophrenia do seem to have lost touch with reality they do not show features of multiple personalities or dissociative identity disorder.

Myth: Only those who are mentally weak or have low intelligence suffer from schizophrenia

Fact: Schizophrenia can affect anyone despite of their social status, educational and financial background. John F Nash, world-renowned mathematician, and Nobel prize winner was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1959. So mental strength or a high intelligence level does not protect against schizophrenia. Also having schizophrenia is not evidence of having low willpower.

Myth: Schizophrenia patients are violent and dangerous thus such patients should not be allowed to live in the community. 

Fact: Most patients are not violent rather they are more likely to be victims of violence. With adequate treatment, patients can be a productive part of the community and thus community living should be promoted. Myth: People with schizophrenia require lifelong hospitalization as there is no treatment. Fact: Schizophrenia is not curable but treatable with medications and therapy just like diabetes and heart illnesses. Most patients do not require hospitalization. With medication, they can live a full and productive life Myth: People with schizophrenia can talk to ghosts and are possessed by ghost Fact: people with schizophrenia can hear voices unheard by others or can see things that others are unable to see, this is called hallucination. Hallucinations respond very well to medications.

Myth: Schizophrenia cannot happen to children.

Fact: Though rare but cases of schizophrenia have been documented in children. such cases may present with a lack of interest in daily activities, social withdrawal and isolation, academic difficulties, behavioural problems, speech and language difficulties, and symptoms of cognitive domain including reduced attention, concentration, and memory.

Myth: Symptoms of schizophrenia are the same for everyone 

Fact: Not everyone with schizophrenia has the same symptoms. Though most patients present with hallucinations and false beliefs, many cases present with social withdrawal, lack of motivation, poor self-care like avoiding showers, academic decline, reduced talking, reduced appetite and feeling gloomy etc. Such cases are easily misdiagnosed as depression or dementia. Thus, patients should be assessed by trained mental health professionals only. Myth: If one member of the family has schizophrenia, other family members will have it too Fact: Schizophrenia is not contagious. It does not spread by living in the same house or sharing food. Though genetics can play a role in some families, in most cases of schizophrenia only one family member is found to be affected.

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