Over and over I encounter people who are totally confused about what schizophrenia is and what causes it. I want to discuss some of these wrong ideas here...The sooner people become educated about this disease, the sooner we will stop encountering stigma and misinformation. I would say that this is one of the hardest things about this disease. When someone asks "What's wrong with you?" the last thing I want to tell them is that I have schizophrenia. SZ is like a dirty secret; something about which to be ashamed and embarrassed...and IT SHOULD NOT BE THIS WAY!! It is a disease as out of my control as cancer is to some people...or birth defects. But our society, by it's ignorance and faulty portrayels of it in pop culture, has created a powerful stigma and it is one that a person with sz feels and feels hard.
For one thing, let me firstly make it clear that schizophrenia is NOT multiple personalities!! That is another diagnosis entirely under the category of Dissociative Diseases. I don't know how this idea got started but it is wrong. And all the jokes, like "I'm schizophrenic and so am I" are NOT funny. They are based on a wrong idea. And as long as you don't understand what an illness really is; you will not be able to help or understand the people who suffer from it.
It is also not caused by an emotionally cold mother! It is not caused by early childhood trauma.
It is a genetic disorder, which strongly runs in families...which is affected by certain environmental factors. Trauma is one of them. Drug use is another. In other words; if you have the gene for sz, you may or may not develop the disease...However if you have certain other factors working against you, they, all together, may make the conditions right for the disease to emerge. It's the same situation as with heart disease: it can be genetic but it may never develop unless certain factors are present like a poor diet, lack of exercise, etc....And there are times when a person apparently has "a perfect life" and will still develop the disease.
Another prevalent misconception is the one that pushes the idea that people with sz are violent. Basically this idea equates schizophrenia with sociopathology. I think the case of "Son of Sam" was one that, inadvertantly, added to this faulty conception. Yes, there ARE some schizophrenic people who commit crimes intentionally or not...occasionally (as in the case of David Berkowitz) in the confusion of the disease this will happen. But the majority of people with this disease are peace-loving, quiet mannered and even withdrawn. They are just like any other cross section of people. There are those who have high morals, and those who don't. There are those who are violent, but the vast majority are not. You would not say that people with cancer are sociopaths, would you? Even though, I am sure, some sociopaths have cancer? NO. So why would you blame a whole group of people because they have a brain disease for the sins of a very few? This is truly a crime similar to racism. It is discriminatory and hurtful.
A fact of life for people with schizophrenia is the looming spector of homelessness. I don't have any statistics to give you, but there are a huge number of people with this disease who are homeless. Probably they comprise, by far, the greatest group of people in the homeless population. Why is this? Because family members get exhausted in trying to cope with this awful illness and they leave. Or a caretaker may die, leaving the person with sz to try to cope on their own. And due to the isolation of most people who have this disease and to the difficulty others can have in dealing with them, they are completely alone. Very few people with this disease can fully support themselves with employment. Most cannot work at all. They are, many of them, supported by Social Security Disability and Medicaid and programs like Food Stamps...and this is by necessity, not by laziness and not by choice. Please understand that. This disease is crippling in its effects on the human mind and even holding a conversation is a great and sometimes impossible task for those who suffer with it. It destroys memory, logical reasoning, verbal and conversational skills, and interpersonal skills to name only a few areas that it affects.
People with schizophrenia are not less intelligent than other people. Many, many of them are incredibly gifted and intelligent....but the disease steals all the potential they would otherwise have, robs them of opportunities and hand them a life of singular hardship instead. It even erodes their powers of memory and reasoning, thus diminishing the usefulness of that intelligence. I write this article. It's logical (I hope), the grammar is correct, I have a large vocabulary. But do you know that I'm sitting in this chair, where I sit every day....usually unwashed, in a room that is a mess, in the same clothes I've worn for most of the week...and I've talked to no one all week except my family? (I did go to prayer meeting at my church last night)....And I am relatively high functioning for a person with this disease. If you were to speak to me in any depth, you would see the evidences of this illness...it does not always transmit through my writing...which is why I like to write. It's the one thing I can do fairly normally...usually.
And lastly, schizophrenic people DO experience some emotions...they just are not good at conveying them. And sometimes they may be feeling one thing but in the trip between their mind and their body it gets scrambled and comes out as something entirely different. Needless to say this makes communication difficult and sometimes pained. And it eventually becomes something to be avoided altogether if only to avoid being misunderstood. Often my husband and daughter will perceive me as being angry when that is the last thing I would have described myself as feeling at the moment.
If you look at an MRI or a CT scan of the brain of a person with schizophrenia, there are observable and marked differences between that and the one of a "normal person." It is a physical disease. And it affects the emotions and mind. You would not believe the resistance I get when I state this fact to people. The stereotypes and false information and stigma run deep in our culture. And these things are one of the most powerful reasons that schizophrenic people "hide" out in their rooms and refuse to come out. It was my goal to challenge some of these misconceptions here and I hope I've challenged yours.