What are the myths and confusion surrounding schizophrenia?
The first and most damaging myth, in my mind, is that people who suffer from schizophrenia are always dangerous. The truth of the matter is that schizophrenics are almost 100 times more likely to be the victims of a violent crime, rather than the perpetrators! This myth is perpetuated by our irresponsible media that constantly sensationalizes crimes committed by a person with a serious mental illness. For the unfortunate people who do commit a serious crime during a psychotic episode, more than likely they were never diagnosed and properly medicated, quit taking their medication, or quit taking medication along with using alcohol and/or taking street drugs. For all the rest of the nearly 3 million schizophrenics in the US, who diligently take medication, avoid copious amounts of alcohol and don’t use street drugs, their rate of violence is the same as the general population!
I’m always deeply hurt and disturbed when I hear major newscasters report that this “nut-case” or “crazed man” was guilty of some violent crime. None of them would ever consider using the “N-word,” verbally assaulting other minorities, or “bashing” folks who are gay or lesbian. Yet it seems perfectly fine to use these derogatory terms to define the mentally ill. Newscasters are supposed to be highly educated people! If they only knew that 1 out of 5 families are impacted by some sort of severe mental illness, they might reconsider how they report!
The second myth is that schizophrenia is the same as a “split personality.” We can thank Hollywood for this confusion in the past. But, I do have to thank the producers of recent movies such as: “Canvas,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “The Soloist.” More and more, I see that Hollywood producers have become enlightened and more responsible. I’m also grateful to the writers of the television series, “Law and Order.” I have found their depiction of people who suffer from schizophrenia to be far closer to reality, and more sensitive than any other program on television.
It doesn’t help that major newscasters and politicians use words such as: “our schizophrenic government” to describe a government that is “crazy” or has a “split personality.” Both of these implications of the word “schizophrenia,” lead to further confusion about the true nature of what is simply a medical disease. Sadly, these intelligent speakers must have little knowledge of the disease, otherwise, they couldn’t possibly think that it was appropriate to use these terms, believing that their words were colorful, descriptive, and somehow poetic.
Comedians routinely use the word “schizophrenia” in their acts. If they could only know how “un-funny” the disease really is!