Schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatized and stereotyped mental health disorders. These stigmas are derived from decades of misconceptions and lack of education surrounding both the illness and the individuals that exhibit schizophrenic symptoms. Stigma remains a major clinical and public health issue, especially when it comes to the treatment of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
Although less than one percent of the United States population is affected by schizophrenia, that means there are still nearly three million Americans that are impacted by the severe, lifelong symptoms of the condition and its associated stigmas. It is essential to discuss the stigmas associated with schizophrenia in order to better understand where these misconceptions came from and to recognize the true facts and symptoms of this condition.
Understanding schizophrenia can help you to bring attention to symptoms that may be abnormal in yourself or others and can help you encourage treatment if and when necessary.
Understanding the Basis Of Schizophrenia
In short, schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong brain disorder that affects an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. People with schizophrenia may hear voices in their heads or see things that aren’t physically present in their environment.
While every case of schizophrenia varies in intensity, severe symptoms can cause a person to lose their sense of reality, which can be very intense. With effective treatment, individuals struggling with schizophrenia can learn to manage their symptoms and participate in normal, daily activities without feeling debilitated by them.
Signs & Symptoms
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) identifies three general categories of symptoms that an individual may experience with schizophrenia. These categories include:
- Psychotic symptoms
- Negative symptoms
- Cognitive Symptoms
Psychotic symptoms refer to difficulties in thought patterns, typically involving challenges with how an individual relates to and understands the world around them. Psychotic symptoms may include:
- Hallucinations: Hearing voices is a common symptom of schizophrenia. Seeing, feeling, or hearing things that are not actually there are called hallucinations.
- Delusions: Another common symptom experienced by individuals with schizophrenia is thinking that someone can read their minds or that they are in constant danger of being hurt by someone else. Delusions can be best understood as distorted or irrational beliefs.
- Thought disorder: Thought disorder can overlap with delusions and is best described as thought patterns that are illogical or abnormal. This may look like extreme difficulties with organizing thoughts and speech or constantly jumping from topic to topic during a conversation.
- Movement disorder: Movement disorder is characterized by abnormal physical body movements.
These symptoms are the absence of normal behaviors. With schizophrenia, negative symptoms may include:
- Loss of motivation
- Loss of interest or enjoyment in daily activities
- Withdrawing from social activities
- Inability to show emotions
- Struggling to feel pleasure
- Having low energy
- Avoiding social interaction
Cognitive symptoms are difficulties with learning, memory, and focus. With schizophrenia, some cognitive symptoms may include:
- Struggling to follow conversations
- Struggling to learn new things or remember things
- Inability to focus, concentrate or pay attention
- Inability to process information to make important decisions
Debunking the Stigmas
There are several public stereotypes regarding schizophrenia, which include:
- Associating individuals with the condition as having unpredictable and dangerous behavior
- Referring to individuals with the condition as psychotic or crazy in a negative way
- Labeling individuals with the condition with harmful words
These stereotypes contribute to social exclusion and poorer quality of care for individuals with schizophrenia. It is essential to understand that stigmas and stereotypes develop from lack of education, miscommunication, and a general lack of compassion for those who struggle with mental health disorders.
When the psychology and psychiatry field developed, there was an incredible misunderstanding surrounding mental health. There were increasing perceptions of dangerousness and violence relating to all types of mental illness back then. As a result, people were admitted to asylums where they would receive inhumane medical and psychological treatment. However, asylums were not meant to treat patients; instead, they were meant to imprison individuals and remove them from society entirely.
Even decades later — and with much effort to change unhealthy stigmas — these invalid stereotypes continually perpetuate individuals from avoiding seeking support or treatment for even the most severe mental health symptoms. Even when individuals do choose to seek out treatment, they may hesitate at the thought of needing or taking medication because they believe that it could be a sign of weakness.
There is no denying that stigmas surrounding schizophrenia, and mental health in general, have come a long way in the last several years. However, in order to debunk these stigmas permanently, everyone must do their part in helping to educate and challenge misinformation when it surfaces in conversation or society.
Schizophrenia is often a stereotyped, misunderstood mental health disorder. It is a severe brain disorder that affects nearly one percent of the United States population. This condition can affect an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In severe cases, schizophrenia can cause an individual to lose a sense of reality, which can be a frightening experience. It is vital to familiarize yourself with the unique signs and symptoms that schizophrenia can cause. By becoming educated, you can help change the stigmas that surround the condition as well as mental health in general. SoCal Mental Health is a mental health and addiction treatment center that specializes in the treatment of schizophrenia and other co-occurring disorders. We believe that treatment can help you manage your distressing symptoms. To learn more about our programs or schizophrenia, give us a call today at (949) 502-2041.