Five myths about Schizophrenia debunked
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder which affects the way a person thinks, acts, and sees the world. They may hear things that do not exist except in their own mind, they talk in strange and confusing ways, they believe people are trying to harm them or they are under constant surveillance.
It is one of the most misunderstood mental disorders, which begins in early adulthood between the ages of 15 and 25, men being more affected than women. According to Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, USA, more than one per cent of the world’s population is affected by Schizophrenia. As with any other disease, the earlier the intervention the better the medical outcome would be for the individual. Schizophrenics are encouraged to take their medication life-long in order to prevent a relapse.
Let us now look at some of the myths associated with Schizophrenia.
Schizophrenics are Psychopaths
The media, through movies or as part of sensational news items, have made us believe that people with schizophrenia are violent. A psychopath or a serial killer is given as an example of someone suffering from Schizophrenia.
This is totally false.
A study presented in a leading medical journal, Journal of American and Medical Association, JAMA, reveals that the notion about people with schizophrenia as being aggressive and violent is not true, especially if they are on medication for this disease. It is only those who are without treatment and are also engaged in simultaneous drug abuse, which are more violent than the general population.
It is paranormal
In our eastern culture, especially in rural areas, if a person starts hearing voices or commands, it is attributed as having been possessed by a “jinn”, an invisible supernatural creature. People believe that these jinns cause various mental and neurological diseases like schizophrenia, epilepsy etc. The belief of a person being possessed by a jinn or black magic prevents people from seeking medical help, resulting in worsening of the disease and aggravation of the symptoms.
Only through awareness and education can we debunk this myth.
Schizophrenia is entirely genetic
About 80% of the risk for Schizophrenia is genetic, meaning the closer the relation, the higher the chances of developing Schizophrenia. Recent research shows that apart from genes, environmental factors and stress also plays an important role. Environmental factors like nutritional deficiencies, substance abuse, peer group or family-related social stresses or being exposed to toxins like cigarette smoke or alcohol during pregnancy, also trigger schizophrenia in people. A healthy environment is therefore important for one’s physical and mental well-being.
Schizophrenics are shabbily dressed, smelly and incapable of working
Schizophrenics who are on medication are pretty functional. One prominent example is the late Dr John Nash, upon whom the movie A Beautiful Mind was also made. He was a Princeton graduate as well as a Nobel laureate and he taught at the university till be passed away.
Schizophrenics have the ability and the potential to study, find work and develop meaningful relationship with people. They might find it hard to make eye-contact with strangers in public but this paranoia can be taken as social-awkwardness, allowing them to live their life without being stigmatized.
Schizophrenics can’t get married
A year-long study, conducted by a psychiatrist in India, showed that 70% of schizophrenic patients have been married for five to 15 years. It also showed that marital rate of schizophrenic patients was only 10% to 15% less than that of the general population. The union fared better where the spouse and their family knew about the illness prior to marriage.
Divorce rate was higher where the other spouse was kept in the dark. Marriage plays the role of social support, however if a person’s illness is severely debilitating, they will not be able to fill those roles or fill them well. Most schizophrenics who are undergoing treatment generally do make good neighbors, employees and parents.
Schizophrenia is a disease which crosses all social classes, cultures and demographics. It varies greatly in its clinical manifestation. Most people with schizophrenia are able to function well, provided they are given proper medication, therapy and social support. We should support someone suffering from this disease by creating more awareness and educating ourselves.
If you see your loved one having any symptoms of schizophrenia, please do not hesitate to seek professional help from a psychiatrist. Though it is not curable as yet, it is definitely treatable and schizophrenic patients can live their lives to the fullest with help from family and friends.
About the author: Dr. Nida Rahman Khan is a graduate of Dow Medical College and she is currently pursuing USMLEs to get residency for psychiatry in the US.