Schizophrenia Myths and Facts

And the answer is...


MYTH: Schizophrenia means multiple personality disorder or "split personality".

Where is it coming from?  The word schizophrenia is the sum of two Greek root words:  skhizein meaning "to split" and phrēn meaning "mind". Add it up and the net result is “split mind”. Which is (mis)taken for the much publicized and equally controversial “split personality”, a lay term for the psychiatric diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder(MPD).

FACT: DID/MPD is a completely different disorder than schizophrenia. DID is not even classified as a psychotic disorder. Instead of a split mind, the skhizein in schizophrenia refers to a mind that is split off from reality.

MYTH: Schizophrenia is rare. Alternative myth: schizophrenia is more frequent than you think.

Where is it coming from?  

Exceedingly rare: Everyone seems to know of someone with depression, anxiety or a gamut of other mental health issues. It is rare when people directly know someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Many people got it: You see it everywhere: in the movies, the newspapers, the internet, the social media. Madness always makes the news.

FACT: The story is in the numbers. The estimated rate of schizophrenia is around 1 in 100 people. Is this a high or low number? Here are some US figures. Compare it with the frequency of HTN (30 people in 100) or diabetes (8 people in 100) and yes: schizophrenia is rare relative to HTN or diabetes.

Compare it with severe OCD, with a frequency of 0.5%, or multiple sclerosis (MS), with a prevalence of 0.1%, and schizophrenia is twice, respectively ten times as frequent than severe OCD or MS. So instead of asking if schizophrenia is rare or severe, a better question is: what is the frequency of schizophrenia when compared to [fill in the blanks]?

MYTH: Schizophrenia commonly leads to violence.

Where is it coming from?  

When people with schizophrenia are violent they can act in such strange and bizarre ways that their actions easily come to media’s attention.

FACTS:  Studies looking at the relationship between schizophrenia and violence found the risk of violence is varies widely —from seven times higher to no greater than that of the general population. Further, the risk of violence for people who abuse alcohol and drugs appears to be higher that the risk of violence for people with schizophrenia who do not abuse substances. When patients with schizophrenia also abuse substances the risk goes up and is about the same as the risk of non-psychotic people abusing alcohol/drugs. To summarize, schizophrenia does not appear to increase risk of violence above the risk associated with substance abuse (Fazel el al., 2009)

MYTH: Schizophrenia is an illness that only gets worse over time.

Where is it coming from? 

There is a subgroup of patients with schizophrenia who do not recover.

This subgroup is commonly the focus of attention in the popular culture (i.e. movies and books) as well as a darling subject of interest for the media.


1. About 30% of the patients with schizophrenia have a type of illness with chronic and gradual progression.

2. About 30% of patients have a type of schizophrenia with a more episodic course and a partial remission (return to normal functioning) between episodes.

3. About 30% of patients might actually recover.

What do these numbers mean?

It is true that the majority of the patients (1+2) have a type of schizophrenia where the chances for remission are low.

It is equally true that the majority of the patients do not have a chronic and gradually deteriorating course ( Bota & Preda, 2011).

Further reading:

Fazel et al. Schizophrenia and Violence: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS Medicine, 2009

Bota R, Preda A: Longitudinal Course of Schizophrenia. Current Psychiatry Reviews 2011, 7(3), 205-216(12)

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