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Public wrongly thinks schizophrenia means a ‘split personality’

A quarter believes the condition causes violent behaviour

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 18 September 2017

Schizophrenia is widely misunderstood, a charity has warned today, with 50% of people thinking it means having a ‘split’ personality. 

The mental health charity, Rethink Mental Illness, has launched the ‘Rethink Schizophrenia’ campaign in light of survey results that reveal that half of participants wrongly believed the illness is defined by a split personality, and over a quarter (26%) think it ‘definitely makes you violent.’

Brian Dow, director of external affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, said: "It's about time we all got to grips with what schizophrenia is and what it isn’t. Schizophrenia can be treated and managed, just like many other illnesses. It's not a dirty word or, worse, a term of abuse."

The charity notes that one in 100 people (around 650,000 adults) are affected by schizophrenia, but 45% of those surveyed (the survey included 1,500 people) thought the illness was much less common. 

The survey revealed that 23% wrongly believed that someone with schizophrenia needs to be monitored by professionals at all times. 

The public were also unaware of the inequalities suffered by people living with the condition. A total of 61% did not know that someone with schizophrenia will live on average 15-20 years less than the rest of the population. 

In the new campaign to change perceptions of the illness, the charity explains that people with schizophrenia may have hallucinations, such as hearing voices, or delusions, and the condition can cause disorganised thinking.

Brian Dow added: “The misconceptions that people with schizophrenia are always violent and need to be monitored somehow is particularly harmful, and untrue.

“Myths like this are dangerous as they have the ability to stop people getting jobs, forming relationships and even accessing life-saving healthcare. The symptoms of schizophrenia don’t fit neatly into a box, everyone will experience it differently. However, we can all play a role in rethinking schizophrenia, and helping to change attitudes, by learning to separate the myths from the facts.”

The survey reveals that while almost 60% of people think that someone with schizophrenia can do a full-time job, only 8% who are ready and want to work are currently employed. 

Commenting, Professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “It is astounding that despite all the talk of conditions such as depression and anxiety, severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are still so widely misunderstood. To tackle the stigma that so many living with schizophrenia face, we have a huge task ahead of us in informing and educating the public. We also need to ensure that more medical students choose psychiatry so that those living with schizophrenia have specialist doctors available to treat them."

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