The myth and reality of schizophrenia

It is unfortunate that the public’s level of information on psychiatric illnesses is very insufficient. In general it consists of information they heard from others and have not sufficiently questioned. It is often judgemental. This delays the commencement of treatment for psychiatric patients and as a result makes treatment more difficult. In this article we will look at myths on psychiatric illnesses that have found their way into all public areas, from literature to cinema, from everyday conversations to the Accident & Emergency departments of hospitals. We will try to provide scientific answers to these.

Here are 7 of the most common myths on schizophrenia and other psychiatric illnesses, and the reality of it:

1. Myth: Psychiatric illness is not a real medical illness like heart disease or diabetes. People with psychiatric illness are just “nutcases”.

Reality: Diseases of the brain are medical illnesses that have as much validity and reality as heart diseases or diabetes. Thousands of scientific research studies demonstrate that psychiatric disorders have genetic and biological origins. And the information we gained over the past century has made it possible for psychiatric illnesses to be treated to a large extend.

2. Myth: People with serious psychiatric illnesses like schizophrenia are dangerous and of an aggressive nature.

Reality: Scientific statistics prove that the likelihood for people with psychiatric illness to show aggression is no more than that of the general population. Schizophrenic patients are frightened, shattered people in pain, rather than aggressive people.

3. Myth: Psychiatric illness develops as a result of a wrong upbringing (bad mother – father).

Reality: It is proven that psychiatric illness develops when an individual with a genetic predisposition to the illness is exposed to certain outside factors. In more serious psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder the role of outside factors is secondary.

4. Myth: Depression develops because of a personality weakness and personal mistakes that have been made. If the patient tries hard enough, he can overcome despondency and depression by himself.

Reality: It has been proven repeatedly that in depression there are major disruptions to the brain chemistry and brain functions of the individual. A large percentage of patients are individuals who were leading a successful life when the illness set in. We know that these people were not weaker in personality or more inadequate or less successful than the rest of the population. And again, with the help of drugs and psychotherapy it is possible to treat depression to a large extend.

5. Myth: Schizophrenia is a condition which is called split personality/multiple personality.

Reality: Schizophrenia is not at all related to multiple personality disorder. In reality schizophrenia is a brain disorder that affects millions of people and damages the sufferer’s ability to think and act correctly. It is believed that in Turkey there are around 600 thousand schizophrenia sufferers. A large section of these people do not live in mental asylums or nursing homes but at home amongst other members of their family members like everyone else. On the other hand, with treatment, a significant number of schizophrenic patients can continue their professional occupation and lead a productive life.

6. Myth: It is not possible for schizophrenic patients to recover completely.

Reality: It is true that schizophrenia is a serious and devastating psychiatric illness. However, it should not be forgotten that with treatment, 20% of patients can reach a level of recovery where they are cleared of their symptoms either completely or almost completely and can lead a productive life. In 60-70% of patients recovery is of medium level, where many symptoms related to the illness disappear. However some symptoms cannot be entirely removed by existing treatments. In 10-15% of patients treatment is largely ineffective, symptoms do not respond at all to treatment or respond only partially.

7. Myth: Schizophrenia is a personality weakness.

Reality: Schizophrenia is an illness of the brain which occurs entirely independent from the individual’s preferences, his past experiences or his personality. To claim that if they try hard enough, schizophrenic patients could rid themselves of the disease is no different from claiming that epileptic patients could stop fits with the power of thought or kidney patients could cure their kidney disorder by exercise and sport.