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Myths and Misconceptions

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2023

Schizophrenia can be a difficult health issue to understand and diagnose. It has many symptoms that can overlap with those of other conditions. People often have opinions and ideas about it based on what they have seen on television or in the news. Sometimes, these ideas are not true.1,2

Learn the truth behind a few common myths and misconceptions about schizophrenia below.

Myth: People with schizophrenia are always hallucinating or having delusions

During the active phase of schizophrenia, hallucinations and delusions are common. But there are other phases of schizophrenia that occur before and after the active phase. During these times, many people have no hallucinations or delusions at all. They may be in a period of remission. Or they may have different symptoms called negative symptoms.1-3

The term “negative symptoms” refers to a loss of active behaviors or emotions. People may lack motivation, pleasure, or feeling. People may also speak or socialize less. Trouble thinking and mood-related symptoms are common, too.1-3

Myth: All people with schizophrenia are dangerous

A common stereotype is that people with schizophrenia hear voices in their head that tell them to harm others. For this reason, people often believe that all people with schizophrenia are violent.1-4

It is true that those with schizophrenia may hear voices and may behave in unexpected ways. But hallucinations are not always violent. And many people do not act on the hallucinations they have. When people with schizophrenia are following a treatment plan, symptoms can be mild or even go away completely.1-4

People with schizophrenia are more likely to be the victim of violent crime than commit them. The greater rate of incarceration is often related to the criminalization of mental illness, homelessness, and addiction. Violent outbursts while possible are not typical behavior and are a sign of needing support not criminality. And if a person is violent, it is not uncommon for them to harm themselves rather than others.1,2,4,5

Myth: Schizophrenia is caused by using drugs, and all people with schizophrenia have substance use issues

There is no single cause of schizophrenia. It is likely a mix of genetic and environmental factors. One factor believed to play a role is drug exposure as a teenager. However, many people use drugs and will never develop the condition.6

It is true that a person with schizophrenia is more likely to have substance use disorder than other people. But it is not clear how the two are related. It is possible that both issues have similar risk factors and stem from a common set of causes. There are also many people with schizophrenia who do not use drugs or have never used drugs.1-6

Myth: People with schizophrenia will never live normal lives

Episodes of psychosis during the active phase of schizophrenia can be debilitating. Some people struggle to carry out daily tasks or function at all during active psychosis. They may have severe hallucinations and delusions that require treatment in a hospital.3,7

However, although there is not a cure, many people live full and enriching lives. It is also possible to have long periods of remission during which symptoms are mild or gone. Each person’s path with schizophrenia is different. But activities such as going to school, working, and having relationships are all possible.1,2,5

Myth: Schizophrenia is the same as having multiple personalities

Having multiple, or “split,” personalities is often portrayed dramatically in the media. The word “schizo” actually means to split, but multiple personalities are not a part of schizophrenia. There is a separate mental health issue that involves multiple personalities, called dissociative identity disorder (DID).1,8

DID often is the result of severe trauma. A person may develop DID to retreat into different worlds and distance themselves from what happened to them. DID and schizophrenia both impact the way a person connects with reality. But they are different conditions with different symptoms.1,8

Myth: Schizophrenia mainly impacts young men

Many portrayals of schizophrenia in the media are of young men. However, anyone can be diagnosed with this condition. One commonly diagnosed group is men between late-teenage years and early adulthood. But another common group is women in their 20s and 30s.3

Although it is rare, kids and older adults are diagnosed with schizophrenia, too. It also is diagnosed across all races and ethnicities. There is no single type of person who develops this condition.1,3

Myth: People with schizophrenia have to live in a hospital

Some episodes of psychosis are best treated in the hospital. It also is safer to treat someone in the hospital if they are a danger to themselves or others. If someone is in treatment and is a danger to themself or others, their provider will be required to hospitalize them to ensure their safety. But many people with schizophrenia need to spend little to no time in the hospital.1,2,7

When people begin treatment and stick to their treatment plan, episodes of psychosis can sometimes be prevented. Close contact with doctors and caregivers also may make it possible to treat symptoms outside a hospital setting.1,2,7

Myth: If a person has schizophrenia, they must have had bad parenting

As mentioned, there are many potential causes of schizophrenia. Childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect are possible factors. But many people with the condition did not experience these factors. And there are likely other causes at play for those who did.6,7

There is no single way to prevent schizophrenia and no singular cause of schizophrenia. If your child is diagnosed with the condition, it does not mean you did something wrong. Even a person with no significant problems in childhood can develop schizophrenia. Granting yourself grace and focusing on caregiving are key to supporting your loved one.2,4

Myth: One episode of psychosis means a person has schizophrenia

Psychosis usually involves disorganized behavior or thinking, hallucinations, and/or delusions. Episodes of psychosis symptoms can occur for many reasons. They can be related to drug side effects or other health issues. A very stressful event also can lead to an episode of psychosis.6,7

If psychosis symptoms last less than 1 month, a person will be diagnosed with brief psychotic disorder. If symptoms impact daily life for 6 months or more, schizophrenia might be the diagnosis. But it is possible to have a single episode of psychosis that does not cause long-term problems or a schizophrenia diagnosis.6,7

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