Schizophrenia is a complex mental health disorder that’s often misunderstood. Altered reality perception and functional impairment in this condition can pose everyday challenges, and stigma — internal and external — can compound existing psychological stress.

Stigma refers to an unfounded mark of disgrace. It’s a term originating from Ancient Greece where stigmas were brands placed on the skin to publicly announce traits considered undesirable.

In the modern day, a stigma is still a brand, though not one forcibly applied to the skin. It’s an unfair belief held by yourself, toward yourself (internal stigma), or held by others about you (external stigma).

Mental health conditions like schizophrenia are often stigmatized. Historically, mental health challenges were poorly understood. Unusual thoughts and behaviors were viewed from a supernatural perspective, seen as omens, curses, or disapproval from the gods.

While experts now understand mental disorders from a physiological standpoint, public knowledge about mental health is still catching up. Limited and inaccurate information about schizophrenia continues to contribute to fear, avoidance, and discrimination — stigma — toward people living with this condition.

According to a scientific paper from 2022, the majority of people living with schizophrenia experience some form of stigma in their lifetimes.

Social stigma, a form of external stigma, involves the unfair beliefs others hold about your life with schizophrenia.

Social stigma can lead to discrimination, avoidance, and hostility from those around you. It can have major effects across all areas of life. Landlords may be less likely to rent to you; for example, employers might pass over your resume, and you may receive a lower quality of care in the medical or service industries.

In a broader context, social stigma can also be institutional. It can come in the form of laws, policies, and legislation that discriminate or promote stereotyping, intentionally or unintentionally. Institutional stigma can contribute to lower funding for schizophrenia initiatives or prevent access to care for many people.

Several widely-held stigmas about schizophrenia exist.

People living with schizophrenia are dangerous

One of the most prevalent stigmas about schizophrenia is that it causes people to be dangerous or violent. In reality, most people diagnosed with schizophrenia aren’t either of these things, but they are more likely than people not living with a mental health condition to be victims of harm.

Overall, only 10% of people living with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders behave violently.

Symptoms of schizophrenia, like hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thoughts, can lead to alarming or unusual behaviors. For people unfamiliar with schizophrenia, there’s often an unfair assumption that unpredictability will progress to violence.

Schizophrenia involves multiple personalities

Schizophrenia does not involve multiple personalities like dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder.

Schizophrenia may cause mood instability that can look to others like personality changes. It can also include auditory or visual hallucinations that you can respond to with conversation, but these altered reality experiences are different from those in DID.

In schizophrenia, your personality remains singular, while in DID, you experience separate, distinct identities.

People living with schizophrenia are unreliable

Living with schizophrenia can be impairing, and there may be times when you’re unable to work, have to seek special accommodations, or won’t be able to make prior engagements with friends and family.

Anyone living with a chronic condition — mental or physical — can face these types of challenges. Schizophrenia is no different, and with the right support in place, many people lead commercially productive lives and successfully manage responsibilities.

People living with schizophrenia aren’t friendly

Social withdrawal and isolation are often a part of the “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia. Negative symptoms are a feature of psychosis. They collectively describe a loss of previous function across areas like emotional expression, socialization, and the ability to experience pleasure.

Living with schizophrenia doesn’t mean you’re antisocial or don’t value connection with others. Schizophrenia symptoms can drive you toward social withdrawal, and experiencing stigma can make you even more likely to avoid interpersonal interactions.

Friendship and meaningful relationships are extremely important for anyone living with a mental health condition. Support from loved ones can help improve everything from treatment adherence to life skill development.

When stigma comes from within

Sometimes, stigma is internal. It’s when you believe incorrect assumptions about what schizophrenia means in your life or what you are capable of.

Internal stigma can involve believing that you could be violent one day from schizophrenia, despite never having those urges, or feeling unworthy to seek out lucrative careers because you believe schizophrenia makes you unsuitable for employment.

Internal stigma can be just as harmful as external stigma. It can cause you to avoid people and opportunities. Research suggests internal stigma increases the risk of isolation and challenging health outcomes in schizophrenia.

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Lack of awareness and accurate information are the driving forces behind stigma. The more facts people know about schizophrenia, the more empathy and insight they can develop about what it really means to live with this condition.

Spreading knowledge and awareness comes in many forms, and you don’t have to advertise to others that you live with schizophrenia to accomplish these goals.

Seek support

Seeking professional support and symptom management can help reduce the impact schizophrenia has on your daily life. Being able to maintain employment, keep up with your personal responsibilities, and have positive interactions with others can be empowering and can reduce internal stigma.

Successfully managing schizophrenia can also demonstrate to others that beliefs about unpredictability, unreliability, and violence are unfounded.

There are many organizations dedicated to providing support for those with schizophrenia, such as:

Encourage awareness

You never have to discuss your mental health with others, but supporting efforts to improve general knowledge about schizophrenia is helpful to everyone. If someone asks about your diagnosis, you can point them in the right direction if you’re not comfortable discussing it directly.

As someone who wants to learn more about schizophrenia, you can seek credible information from national associations, advocacy organizations, and your personal medical providers.

Be kind

Kindness can exist regardless of how much you know or understand about schizophrenia.

If you know someone who has been diagnosed with this condition, be kind to them. Remind yourself that behaviors you don’t understand could be related to their diagnosis and aren’t a reflection of how they feel about you or their worth as a person.

Give them the benefit of the doubt. Rather than avoiding them, be supportive as best you can. Advocate for them among peers and in situations where regulations and infrastructure contribute to stigma.

The same can be said for your inner experience if you live with schizophrenia. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself to make mistakes, grow, and learn.

Schizophrenia is an often misunderstood and stigmatized mental health condition. Untrue assumptions about violence, antisocial preferences, and low reliability maintain a culture of fear and discrimination for people living with this condition.

Expanding accurate knowledge and awareness about schizophrenia can help combat stigma by building empathy — the ability to relate to another’s thoughts and experiences.