Unless they have a personal connection with schizophrenia, most people have a very poor understanding of schizophrenia, what it involves, and how common it is. Most of my schizophrenia clients are surprised to hear that, in the greater Twin Cities area, there are probably around 20,000-30,000 people with schizophrenia. People who don’t know a person with the illness often think of schizophrenia as causing violence, multiple personalities, and an inability to function like an adult. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) has done an extensive survey about Americans’ understanding of the knowledge, along with a report about what’s needed to increase understanding and some video clips outlining the true lives of people with schizophrenia.
It’s no surprise people know so little about the illness–there’s always been a terrible stigma about all kinds of mental illness, and schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatized. In recent decades, more and more Americans have become familiar with illnesses like Major Depression, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorders. But in general, people remain ignorant about schizophrenia. It seems like the only time the word “schizophrenia” comes up in the media is to report a crime or other negative story regarding people with the illness. We all know that in the news, negative sells better than positive, which may be why the general public has no knowledge of the millions of Americans with schizophrenia who get treated and live normal, everyday lives. (Imagine the headline: “Local woman with schizophrenia takes meds, lives a quiet life, enjoys bowling!” Ha!)
As time goes on and more and more mental illnesses come into Americans’ understanding, I hope that people affected by the illness and people who help treat the illness take the time to stop and share their stories about people with schizophrenia. I look forward to the day when the vast majority of people understand and accept that it is a treatable illness, that people with schizophrenia are like anyone else in most ways, and that people with schizophrenia, especially when getting the right treatment, can live regular lives in our communities as positive members of society.