Tuesday 2nd of May, 2023.
Written by Clinical Psychologist, Ebony Collins.


Misconceptions about schizophrenia are perpetuating a stigma that has long existed. For many people their knowledge on schizophrenia comes from what they have seen in the movies that portrays an extreme version that does not represent the majority of people with this illness. Like most mental health conditions, schizophrenia presents in a variety of forms and is different for each person. There are symptoms which can severally impact on an individuals functioning. These are generally temporary impairments that occur during an episode of illness.

There are many misconceptions that do not hold true for the average person with schizophrenia. Here we aim to address some of these myths.

People with schizophrenia can not work/study/contribute to society as they are too unwell.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that people with schizophrenia are unable to be contributing members of the community. Many people with schizophrenia have psychotic episode which impact their functioning for a period of time. Following a period of treatment they will generally improve and for many of these people their symptoms will resolve which allows them to return to their normal activities and lifestyle. For some people with schizophrenia treatment will result in the complete removal of symptoms. This allows them to return to every day life without any limitations.

Many people will experience what is referred to as negative symptoms. These negative symptoms refer to things such as a lack of interest, motivation, and low mood. These persistent symptoms can affect someone’s return to general functioning. This may result in working part time or in a volunteer capacity. They can continue to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

It is less common for people to experience what is described as chronic schizophrenia. This term refers to people who, despite treatment continue to experience positive symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions. People experiencing ongoing positive symptoms come to learn how to live with these symptoms. While it can greatly affect their functioning and ability to engage in aspects of the community they can still do this at a reduced capacity.

People with schizophrenia are dangerous or unsafe to be unsupervised.

There are certain symptoms that can be problematic such as paranoia or delusions. These can a person to fear for their individual safety or for those around them. It is very rare that someone with these symptoms would become violent. Often, they are more concerned with protecting themselves, as opposed to defending themselves or seeking to harm others.

You can tell if someone has schizophrenia.

Unfortunately the vision of Jack Nicholson in one flew over the cuckoo nest is usually the image that comes to mind when schizophrenia is discussed. This leads to the belief that someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia would be easily identifiable to others due to either their appearance or behaviour. It is not untrue that there can be very obvious indicators of someone who is psychotic such as unusual behaviour but this is not true for the majority of people. Many people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia would not display any physical indicators that would identify them as having this diagnosis. Whilst at the peak of a psychotic episode, it can be difficult for some people to mask their symptoms or blend into society, this period of time is generally short, and for the remainder of time there are few, if any obvious indicators of illness.

Someone with schizophrenia must live in a hospital facility.

Short hospital stays can be needed to help someone during an episode of psychosis in order to commence or adjust medication. Long term psychiatric hospitals no longer exist in Australia. People with this illness live in the community independently. For those who require assistance they may live in supported housing where they are free to come and go, whilst receiving assistance to allow them to engage in other areas of their lives.

People with schizophrenia behave in odd or extreme ways

While delusions are a very common symptom of schizophrenia, it does not always result in the person behaving in odd ways. Not everyone with this illness will behave oddly even if they are experiencing hallucinations and/or delusions.

Everyone with schizophrenia has hallucinations

Hallucinations are not an essential criteria to be diagnosed. Hearing voices (auditory) or experiencing visual disturbances can be part of the illness but not every person will experience these. Hallucinations are not as frequent as they may be portrayed in the movies.

People with schizophrenia do not get better

Treatment is available for people with this condition. This treatment can be very effective and can allow people to live symptom free or with very few symptoms. There are a small number of people who do not respond to treatment. Overall, treatment can allow people to live out their lives in a meaningful way.