It’s safe to say that no mental disorder is more shrouded in mystery, misunderstanding and fear than schizophrenia. “The modern-day equivalent of leprosy” is how renowned research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey, M.D., refers to schizophrenia in his excellent book, Surviving Schizophrenia: A Manual for Families, Patients, and Providers.
While 85 percent of Americans recognize that schizophrenia is a disorder, only 24 percent are actually familiar with it. And according to a 2008 survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64 percent can’t recognize its symptoms or think the symptoms include a “split” or multiple personalities. (They don’t.)
Aside from ignorance, images of the aggressive, sadistic “schizophrenic” are plentiful in the media. Such stereotypes only further the stigma and quash any shred of sympathy for individuals with this illness, writes Dr. Torrey. Stigma has a slew of negative consequences. It’s been associated with reduced housing and employment opportunities, diminished quality of life, low self-esteem and more symptoms and stress (see Penn, Chamberlin & Mueser, 2003).