3 Common Misconceptions About Schizophrenia

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By Kristen Tang (guest contributor)

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Schizophrenia is a mental illness which affects about 1% of the general population. It is characterised by at least two of the following symptoms:

  1. Delusions
  2. Hallucinations
  3. Disorganised speech
  4. Grossly disorganised or catatonic behaviour
  5. Negative symptoms

Delusions are beliefs that do not change, even when there is evidence to the contrary. The most common type of delusion is the belief that someone (an individual, organisation, or group) is out to get you. Another common delusion is that certain messages (such as advertisements, overheard comments, passages from books, etc.) are meant specifically for you.

Hallucinations are clear and vivid experiences of things which are not really happening. These are usually auditory hallucinations, where the person with schizophrenia hears voices.

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Disorganised speech involves a great impairment in communication. For example, a person with schizophrenia may switch from topic to topic. They may answer questions with unrelated responses. Sometimes, their speech is completely incomprehensible.

The behavioural difficulties in schizophrenia involve having trouble conducting goal-directed behaviour. Grossly disorganised or abnormal behaviour can vary from “silly” behaviour such as wearing too many layers of clothes in summer, to “unpredictable agitation” such as walking down the street and screaming.

Catatonic behaviour ranges from immobility and negativism, to strange movements, to excessive and purposeless movements. Catatonia is also a feature of other illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Immobility involves being unable to speak or move. Sometimes, the person with schizophrenia may even stay in whatever positions other people move them into. Negativism refers to being unresponsive to instructions, or resisting attempts to move them. Strange movements include odd poses, grimacing, and staring. The person with schizophrenia may also echo other people’s speech or movements.

Finally, negative symptoms include reduced emotional expression, decreased ability to experience pleasure, decreases in purposeful activities, reduced interest in social interaction, and reduced speech.

Not all of these symptoms will be seen in everyone who has schizophrenia. Only two of these symptoms are required for a diagnosis. Also, as you can see, each symptom can vary quite a bit in its presentation. Thus, every person with schizophrenia will have a different presentation.

Schizophrenia is not well-understood by most people, leading to many misconceptions about the illness. Here are some important facts addressing major misconceptions about schizophrenia.

Misconception #1 – Schizophrenia involves multiple personalities

(photo: Life Mental Health)

Schizophrenia is often mistaken for dissociative identity disorder, which involves having two or more different personality states. However, multiple personalities are not part of the diagnosis of schizophrenia.

A person with schizophrenia experiences a split between reality and their perception of reality, not between two personalities. Their delusions or hallucinations appear to be real, but are not actually real. Their disorganised speech or behaviour appears reasonable to them, but is not objectively reasonable.

If they act differently when the illness is in remission, it is because they are no longer divorced from reality.

Misconception #2 – People with schizophrenia are violent

It is often thought that people with schizophrenia are usually violent. According to recent studies, it is true that people with schizophrenia are significantly more likely to commit violent acts than members of the general public. However, this does not mean that all individuals with schizophrenia will be violent. Most people with schizophrenia will not be violent, just as most of the general public will not be violent. Also, the proportion of violent crimes committed by people with schizophrenia is small.

Substance abuse significantly increases the risk of violence for people with schizophrenia (as well as for the general public). The reason why people with schizophrenia are more likely to be violent may be that they are more likely to engage in substance abuse. However, more research is needed to confirm this.

Misconception #3 – Schizophrenia is not treatable

It is true that most people with schizophrenia continue to show symptoms of schizophrenia or have recurrent episodes of schizophrenia throughout their lives. However, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be alleviated with medication, although there is some controversy as to which medications are most effective.

Psychological therapy is also useful for preventing relapse (family therapy) and improving the mental state of people with schizophrenia (cognitive behavioural therapy).

Thus, drug therapy and psychological therapy can significantly reduce psychotic symptoms and improve the quality of life for most individuals with schizophrenia. The prognosis improves if the illness is detected early. For many people, symptoms of schizophrenia develop slowly and do not suddenly appear.

A small number of individuals with schizophrenia are even reported to recover completely.


In short, people with schizophrenia should not be approached with fear or hopelessness. Most people with schizophrenia are not dangerous, and many can live happy and healthy lives.

It is important for people with schizophrenia to seek treatment early. For this to happen, we must work to spread awareness, reduce stigma, and resolve misconceptions about the illness.


By guest contributor Kristen Tang

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