By Mike Hedrick
An attempt to dispel some common misconceptions.
I’ve lived with schizophrenia for 10 years, and there are questions that seemingly always pop up whenever I trust someone enough to disclose my diagnosis. There are also things that catch me off guard about the state of knowledge surrounding major mental illnesses that I’d like to confront. These myths perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental illness and someone needs to dispel them. Here, in no specific order, are 5 things you should know about schizophrenia:
1. We are not violent.
Numerous studies have shown that people with major mental illnesses are more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Of course, the narrative surrounding school shootings and massacres suggests that only people with mental illness perpetrate these crimes. While those individuals may have mental illness issues, evil is not an inherent facet of mental illness. People with mental illness are some of the most sensitive, creative, and kind people you will ever meet. We’re all just struggling to fight both this misconception and the things in our heads.
2. We are still people.
Just because we have a mental illness doesn’t mean we are any less human. We still think and feel, sometimes more deeply than other people. If we do something weird, we are simply reacting to the things our brain is telling us. We are just trying to get by, and sometimes our minds play tricks on us. We are just as scared as you are, if not more so.
3. Schizophrenia is not split personalities.
It’s a huge misconception that schizophrenia is the same as dissociative identity disorder. These are two different disorders, but thanks to Hollywood and the media, people have come to believe that schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder are the same thing. While schizophrenia in Latin means “of two minds,” it does not mean there are two different personalities inside of us. We have psychosis. This means that the main facet of schizophrenia is the belief that we see or hear or experience things that are not there. Whether it’s a delusion or a hallucination or paranoia, the main thing is that we are experiencing something which isn’t real. Sometimes we don’t know this fact and, because of that, we tend to get confused about things.
4. We’re not lost causes.
There’s a notion among people both inside and outside of the mental-health field that schizophrenia is a life sentence of limited capabilities and an inability to function normally in society. But it’s nothing more than an illness—an illness that can be dealt with and overcome. While we may never get rid of some of the symptoms, we are just as capable as anyone else of being a contributing member of society. The illness may even spur us to great things in an attempt to prove this notion wrong. Before you dismiss us, know that we want normalcy, too.
5. Not everyone has the same symptoms.
Some people think that there are major common symptoms of schizophrenia present in every case, but the truth is, each individual is unique. Some may only experience psychosis, while others may have hallucinations. I’ve only ever had psychosis, paranoia, and delusions. Schizophrenia is a spectrum disorder, which means there is a vast range of possibilities for how the illness may manifest. There are some common symptoms, but each of us is different.
Mainly, living with schizophrenia means trying to maintain a tenuous balance between the things our brain is telling us and reality. We’re all just trying our best to live normal, balanced lives. The last things we need to deal with are outdated media conceptions that we are violent monsters or dangerously unhinged. We want normalcy just as much, if not more, than anyone else. We are kind, sensitive, smart, creative and deeply caring, so please don’t put labels on us that paint us as anything different. We just want to be OK.