Schizophrenia is a mental illness that impacts around one percent of the population. Due to its rarity and stigmatization, many stereotypes and misconceptions regarding schizophrenia unfortunately exist in society. After learning about this mental health condition in my coursework as well as an internship in a psychiatric clinical setting, I feel that I am qualified to dispel a few myths about schizophrenia. To put it very simply, schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects how people think, feel, and perceive the world.
Here are 3 really important things you should know about schizophrenia:
1. Schizophrenia has different phases.
Schizophrenia has three different phases— the prodromal phase, the active phase, and the residual phase.
In the prodromal phase, a person's mood may change, and they may become uncharacteristically irritable or depressed. A person in the prodromal phase may also begin to isolate themselves from others and no longer find joy in activities they used to. They may find themselves believing that insignificant events are directly related to them, which are called ideas of reference. "Magical thinking," or the belief that special powers like telepathy or clairvoyance are possessed may also occur. Poor concentration, an increase in anxiety, and hygienic deterioration are also not uncommon. The prodromal phase often begins 1 to 2 years before more serious symptoms manifest.
In the active phase, the more serious symptoms of schizophrenia begin. These symptoms can be considered positive or negative symptoms, and this is not related to how "good" or "bad" the symptoms are. In regards to schizophrenia, the positive symptoms are commonly delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking as well as disorganized speech. Delusions are ideas that are not true. For example, someone with schizophrenia may believe that they are being stalked by the FBI or that their thoughts are being read by the government. A hallucination is a perception that is not marked in reality. There are multiple types, which are auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory, and taste hallucinations. Auditory hallucinations in schizophrenia often present as voices, but other sounds may exist, such as footsteps. Visual hallucinations are seeing things that are not really there, like colors, people, or sinister things. Tactile hallucinations are feeling sensations with no physical cause, and olfactory hallucinations involve smelling things with no source. People in the active phase of schizophrenia may find it severely difficult to keep their thoughts straight. This is called disorganized thinking. Because of this, the individual may find it hard to speak in coherent, clear sentences due to the disorganization of ideas. This results in speech that may not make sense or is not easy to follow.
In the residual phase, symptoms may be similar to those of the prodromal phase. While positive symptoms and psychosis tend to subside, negative symptoms may remain. Negative symptoms represent a deficit in functioning in schizophrenia. This includes affective deficits, such as little to no emotional expression, poor eye contact, or an inconsistent vocal pattern. Alogia is a negative symptom, which is a poverty of speech, and catatonia is a lack of mobility. These are only some of the negative symptoms that may present themselves in schizophrenia.
2. Schizophrenia has a broad range of symptoms, and multiple personalities is not one of them.
There is a very skewed idea that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities. This is a component of a separate mental health condition known as dissociative identity disorder, not schizophrenia. The Greek word "schizo" does mean "split," or "broken off," but think of it as the mind being split or broken off from reality, not having split personalities.
3. People with schizophrenia can live normal lives.
Schizophrenia is a devastating illness, but that does not mean that a diagnosis of this disorder ensures doom. It is true that the disorder cannot be cured, but medication and therapy can help those living with the condition to live relatively normal lives.