Destigmatizing Schizophrenia

July 18th, 2023

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects the way a person thinks and perceives reality. Symptoms may affect how them cope with day-to-day life. It can be characterized by episodes in which the person is unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences. As with any illness, the severity, duration, and frequency of symptoms can vary. 

Since schizophrenia is a spectrum, symptoms may vary in intensity, onset, frequency, and duration. It may also impact the ability to distinguish reality. Some of its symptoms are:  

  • Hallucinations 
  • Delusions 
  • Disorganized thinking 
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Slow movement 
  • Change in sleep patterns 
  • Poor grooming or hygiene 
  • Changes in body language and emotions 
  • Less interest in social activities 
  • Low sex drive 


Schizophrenia affects about 1 in every 100 people. The complexity of schizophrenia may help explain why there are misconceptions about the disease. 


Stigma Promotes and Fuels Misconceptions  

Stigma definition: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. 

Stigmatization poses significant barriers to both recovery from schizophrenia and full integration into the community. Stigmas against people diagnosed with Schizophrenia are widespread and cause people to fear those diagnosed. People who do not live with the disorder may not understand or relate to the distorted reality of people with Schizophrenia battles tend to leave those out of their communities. This discrimination further isolates people living with Schizophrenia.  

Discrimination  “The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people, especially on the grounds of ethnicity, age, sex, or disability.” 

Isolation – Being socially excluded from peers due to lack of interest or relatable symptoms. Most people cannot relate to an illness they cannot see. 

Labeling- Words like crazy or psychopath being used to describe people with Schizophrenia creates unconscious bias. People living with Schizophrenia are certainly not crazy or psychopaths. 

Most Common Stigmas  

  1. Fear – that they are naturally violent and chaotic  
  2. Discrimination – thinking they are unable to work 
  3. Incapable – thinking they are unable to care for themselves  
  4. Socially Isolated – that they cannot interact “normally” with society  
  5. Crazy or psychotic – suggesting they are unable to control their emotional states 


Debunking Myths 

“Schizophrenia symptoms manifest the same for everyone. “  

MYTH: Schizophrenia is a culture-bound illness, which means that a difference in culture can influence how it manifests. Western societies tend to view schizophrenia symptoms as a medical issue, while Eastern societies treat it as a spiritual or supernatural phenomenon. (Gaines, Rebecca, “Culture & Schizophrenia: How the Manifestation of Schizophrenia Symptoms in Hue Reflects Vietnamese Culture” (2014). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 1826.) 


“Schizophrenia has positive and negative symptoms.” 

FACT: Negative symptoms meaning reducing, less (< ). Less of these symptoms: lack of interest in life, poor concentration, and disturbed sleeping patterns. Positive symptoms meaning increase, more (>). More of these symptoms: hallucinations, delusions, disorganized cognitive and motor behavior 


“People with schizophrenia are all violent and dangerous!” 

MYTH: Stigma has become a justification for labeling others as inferior and threatening. The concept of stigma has multiple components that include status loss and discrimination toward labeled people. Affecting:  

  • Employment 
  • Health care inequalities 
  • Incarceration 
  • Homelessness 
  • Retaliatory violence 


“Schizophrenia is inherited by your parents.”   

MYTH: The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Research suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors may develop the condition. (ex. Life stressors may sometimes trigger such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, being abused). 


“People with schizophrenia are unemployable”  

MYTH: Often, the struggle to find and keep jobs has little to do with their own ability and more to do with stigma, discrimination, and the lack of access to available treatment. 


“All people with schizophrenia must live in an inpatient facility or prison”  

MYTH: The level of care each individual receives is based on their own specific needs. Symptoms can be treated in a mix of inpatient and outpatient programs. Most people with schizophrenia respond well to treatment and live independently, with their families, or in special group homes with other peers.  


“People with Schizophrenia have split personalities”  

MYTH: “Schizophrenia” originates from the Greek word, meaning ‘split’ and ‘mind’. Although schizophrenia may affect the way we think, it most certainly does not mean multiple personalities like dissociative identity disorder.  


Additional notes: 

People with schizophrenia often experience human rights violations both inside mental health institutions and in community settings. Stigma against people with this condition is intense and widespread, causing social exclusion, and impacting their relationships with others, including family and friends. This contributes to discrimination, which in turn can limit access to general health care, education, housing, and employment.  

During humanitarian and public health emergencies, extreme stress and fear, breakdown of social support, isolation and disruption of health-care services and supply of medication can occur. These changes can impact the lives of people with schizophrenia, such as exacerbation of existing symptoms. During emergencies, people with schizophrenia are more vulnerable than others to various human rights violations, including neglect, abandonment, homelessness, abuse, and exclusion. 

How you can help: 

  1. Address the stigmas surrounding Schizophrenia by familiarizing yourself with it. 
  2. Help them get treatment and encourage them to stay in treatment. 
  3. Remember that their beliefs or hallucinations seem very real to them. 
  4. Look for support groups and family education programs. 
  5. Try to offer empathy and focus on the emotions that the person is experiencing. 
  6. Avoid expressing frustration to the person.  
  7. Offering non-judgmental support doesn’t confirm or deny the delusion but rather shows the person that you care. 
  8. Acknowledge comments are not personal or directed at you.  
  9. Practice Reality Testing
    1. Anchoring: Holding a small item that has emotional value to assist in remembering reality.
    2. Use a phone camera to identify if they are experiencing hallucinations.   
  10. Help them engage in a coping skill like listening to music, walking, grounding. 


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