Schizophrenia is one of the oldest mental illnesses known to mental health disorders. It’s also a disorder that takes on the look of several other traits of disorders at the same time. So much so that many people think it’s part of another mood disorder or oftentimes, a personality disorder.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people loosely use “schizophrenia” as a lay term for multiple personality disorder and assume they are one in the same. And because of the misunderstanding of these persistent mental illnesses I thought it would be helpful to share some of the myths between the two and set the record straight that schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are two distinct disorders.
1. People with schizophrenia suffer from multiple personality disorder.Absolutely not true! The two major components of schizophrenia are delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are fixed ideas or beliefs one has that are not based in reality.
Hallucinations are sensations that appear real but are created in one’s mind. Multiple personality disorder, also presently known as dissociative personality disoder, is the enduring experience of a person’s life that also impairs behavior and memory. There is a split off of two or more co-existing personalities that have significant changes in presentation at any given time. Those splits can appear as individual changes in thoughts, behaviors, interests, names and even changes in facial and vocal expressions.
2. People with schizophrenia will have changes in their mood that appear to look like different personalities and mood disorders. The fact is people who live with schizophrenia are living with delusions and hallucinations on an ongoing basis. Even with medication, which if taken consistently, can decrease the symptoms of schizophrenia, a person living with schizophrenia is almost always dealing with their own delusions and/or hallucinations.
The symptoms are also just as frightening to the one experiencing it as it is to the one witnessing the signs of the disease. The personality may appear different when the symptoms are enhanced or become more overwhelming to the sufferer but it’s not a separate break off in personality. Someone with a delusion or hallucination can also have either a delusion or a hallucination about any number of things. They’re not fixed on a set of standards. And they don’t suffer from blackouts and memory disturbances like someone with multiple personality disorder or DID (dissociative personality disorder).
3. People suffering with schizophrenia are more dangerous than people suffering with multiple personality disorder. Not true! Having schizophrenia does not make someone more dangerous than having multiple personality disorder or any other disease. Though the media would like people to believe this, research has proven that people with schizophrenia commit less than 2% of crimes within the general public.
4. People with schizophrenia have some of the longest lifespans of any other sufferer with mental illness. False! Unfortunately, most people who live with schizophrenia tend to have some of the shortest lifespans of all the other survivors of mental illness. Because so many schizophrenic patients have multiple medical and mental health conditions, poorer compliance with medication regimens, increased suicide rates and lack of insight into what may be more obvious healthier lifestyles to someone without the disease, they usually suffer more fatalities than the average person. They also live in more isolation because of their inability to relate well with others. And their lifespans are generally 10-25 years shorter than the average adult.
The issue for the general public is not that either of these disorders present much of a threat to the survival of the species. Rather, the isssue is that we need to become better educated about these more misunderstood disorders and that we treat people who suffer from them with respect and dignity. Living with mental illness is not an easy life to live. The task for our medical and mental health systems should be to bridge the public’s awareness of the realities of mental illness.
Asha Tarry, LMSW is a Licensed Mental Health Specialist and Owner of Behavioral Health Consulting Services LMSW, PLLC (BHCS) www.BHConsultingServices.net. BHCS provides consultations, evaluations and referrals for adults 18 yrs & over with mental health and social services needs. They also offer 1:1 mental health coaching & support groups. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/@ashatarry and www.Facebook.com/Asha