Beyond the Myths: Destigmatizing and Treating Schizophrenia

My friend Ashley and I meet up once a week for coffee. She’s hilarious, thoughtful, effervescent, and has a truly kind heart. She has two incredible daughters, a loving husband, and works as a nurse in an intensive care unit where she devotes herself tirelessly to her patients. We can talk for hours, laugh, share our most private thoughts, and we have supported each other through thick and thin. Ashley also has schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia. The word does not conjure up images of a successful, happy mother. Among the most maligned and misunderstood mental health disorders, schizophrenia is accompanied by a host of stereotypes and misconceptions about how the illness affects those living with it. Unlike psychiatric disorders such as depressionanxiety, and bipolar disorder, which have benefited from increased public awareness, understanding, and acceptance, schizophrenia has remained largely hidden in the shadows, compounding the suffering of those living with it. The myths surrounding schizophrenia can create unnecessary fear, and isolate both those living with the illness and their families. You may even internalize the stigma, exacerbating your emotional pain and leading to a sense of hopelessness. It is vital that we resist the damaging mythology surrounding schizophrenia to gain a full and realistic understanding of the disorder and the possibilities for living a healthy, fulfilling life.

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Myth #1: People with schizophrenia are dangerous


Some studies have found that people with schizophrenia are more prone to committing violent acts. However, newer, more comprehensive research suggests that it is not schizophrenia itself that contributes to violence, but that the violence is the result of co-occurring substance abuse.[1. http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/05/21/schizophrenia-does-not-influence-risk-of-violent-crime/6016.html] The study–the largest to date and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association–found that 28% of those with schizophrenia and co-occurring substance abuse were convicted of a violent crime. 8% of people with schizophrenia without substance abuse and 5% of the general population were convicted during the same period. What this tells us is that the stereotype of the violent schizophrenic is unfounded. Furthermore, recognizing and providing effective intervention for co-occurring substance abuse is vital for successfully treating schizophrenia.

Myth #2: People with schizophrenia have split personalities


Multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder, and schizophrenia are distinct diagnoses and two very different types of mental health disorders. Some people with schizophrenia may have auditory hallucinations in which they hear voices, sometimes with distinct personalities. However, you do not believe you are these different people. Hearing voices is also not a universal symptom; schizophrenia encompasses a wide range of symptoms and is experienced by different people in different ways. Some people may never experience any type of auditory hallucinations at all. It is important to recognize that each person with schizophrenia is an individual, faces unique challenges, and needs to be treated according to their particular presentation and situation.

Myth #3: Schizophrenia is untreatable


Schizophrenia is not curable–but it is a treatable chronic condition, and with proper treatment, the vast majority of people with schizophrenia get better over time, not worse, with some experiencing complete remission of symptoms.[2. http://www.helpguide.org/articles/schizophrenia/schizophrenia-treatment-and-recovery.htm] Modern therapies allow many people with schizophrenia to find relief from their suffering and develop the coping skills they need to handle their illness effectively. Great strides have been made within the pharmacological field, offering a variety of psychotropic approaches that can target your specific symptoms while minimizing side effects. By working with a skilled psychiatrist, you can discover well-tolerated medication protocols that control the illness and enhance your quality of life. Therapists too are implementing more sophisticated therapeutic methods to help improve the lives of patients cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in particular has been shown to greatly improve outcomes for people living with schizophrenia, by giving patients the tools to identify triggers, regulate emotions, learn how to test their reality perception, and respond to stressors in healthy, positive ways.[3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2811142/] Through a combination of medication and psychotherapy, you can begin to heal and manage your schizophrenia in a way that allows you to live a full, joyful life.

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Myth #4: People with schizophrenia are unable to live normal lives


Schizophrenia can deeply impact your ability to function emotionally, cognitively, socially, and occupationally. For some, the disorder does indeed present a life-long struggle that prohibits participation in so-called ‘normal’ activities. However, schizophrenia can often be well-managed, allowing you to form meaningful relationships, engage in productive work, be self-sufficient, and pursue your dreams. Humans are remarkably adaptable and with the support of caring, competent professionals, you can optimize your chances of being able to live a stable, fulfilling life. Early diagnosis and treatment dramatically improve outcomes, and give you the greatest hope for sustainable wellness, but it is never too late to seek help.

Bridges to Recovery offers complete, compassionate treatment for people living with schizophrenia. Contact us to learn more about our innovative residential treatment program and how we can help your or your loved one start on the path to healing.