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Rethink: Nine out of ten people in UK believe at least one myth about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia could be one of the ‘most misunderstood illnesses in the UK’ according to the charity Rethink Mental Illness as it releases new figures which show 90 per cent of us can’t separate fact from fiction.

The survey of more than 2,000 UK adults (1) shows that more than half (52%) believe the myth that having schizophrenia means ‘having a split personality’ and more than one in four (26%) believe the myth that people with the illness need to be monitored at all times.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said: “A lot of people still associate schizophrenia with the idea of having different personalities. It’s easy to see where the confusion comes from, as the word ‘schizophrenia’ literally translates to ‘split mind’. People who have schizophrenia typically experience hallucinations and delusions, but they don’t suddenly ‘switch’ into a different person.”

Eighty-seven per cent of those surveyed failed to link schizophrenia with having a lower life expectancy, when in fact people who have the illness, die up to 20 years earlier.

“One of the things a lot of people don’t realise about schizophrenia is the impact it has on physical health. The effect on the body of the symptoms of mental illness, along with the side effects of antipsychotic medication and lifestyle factors, leave people at a greater risk of weight gain, diabetes and heart problems,” said Jenkins. “Our members also tell us they sometimes struggle to be taken seriously by doctors. Their physical symptoms are often dismissed because of their mental illness.”

The polling also revealed that more than two in five UK adults (42%) worryingly believe that people with schizophrenia can never recover and more than one in ten (12%) incorrectly believe they can’t do a normal job.

More than one in seven (15%) think people with schizophrenia are dangerous. “This is possibly the myth that causes most distress,” commented Jenkins. “It’s important to remember that violence is absolutely not a symptom of schizophrenia.”

Rethink Mental Illness campaigner Alastair Campbell is backing the campaign. The former Downing Street Director of Communications, who has spoken openly of his own mental health problems, said: “It reflects badly on all of us as a society that these myths still persist. They do so because of fear and ignorance and a lack of debate and understanding. As a result, far too many people assume that anyone with schizophrenia is likely to be out of control and violent, when in truth people with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

“Many people with schizophrenia manage their symptoms through medication and talking therapies and lead very ordinary lives. We all have a duty to arm ourselves with the facts. It is ignorance that fuels the fear and discrimination which surrounds the illness, and we need to work hard to break it down,” said Campbell.


Top 5 schizophrenia myths from Rethink Mental Illness

Myth 1: People with schizophrenia have a split personality (52% agree)

Fact: This is the most common myth, but it’s completely false. The word ‘schizophrenia’ literally translated means ‘split mind’ which has caused a lot of confusion. People with schizophrenia do sometimes experience delusions and hallucinations but they do not have two separate personalities.

Myth 2: People with schizophrenia have the same physical health as everyone else (49% agree)

Fact: Many people do not realise the impact schizophrenia has on people’s physical health. The physical effects of mental illness, combined with the side effects of anti-psychotic medication and lifestyle factors mean people with the illness have a life expectancy 20 years lower than average.

Myth 3: People with schizophrenia can’t recover (42% agree)

Fact: Longitudinal studies show that most people diagnosed with schizophrenia will recover. Studies in the USA find that between 50-70% of people diagnosed with schizophrenia recover (2). According to The Royal College of Psychiatrists, for every five people with schizophrenia - one will get better within five years, three will get better but will have times when they get worse again and one will have troublesome symptoms for long periods of time (3).

Myth 4: People with schizophrenia need to be monitored at all times (26% agree)

Fact: When people with schizophrenia are getting access to the treatment and support they need, there is no reason why they cannot lead happy and productive lives. Some people with schizophrenia live with family or in supported housing, but many of those affected live independently and are active members of society.

Myth 5: People with schizophrenia are dangerous (15% agree)

Fact: Violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia and people with the illness are for more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

Notes to editors

Full survey results:

2,216 UK adults were asked: “Which, if any, of the following statements do you believe are true about people who have schizophrenia? (Please tick all that apply)”

Agree (per cent)

They are most likely to develop schizophrenia in their late teens or early 20’s 29%
They have a split personality 52%
They can do a normal job 50%
They need to be monitored at all times 26%
They can have children 58%
They are most likely to develop schizophrenia in their 30’s 6%
They can’t do a normal job 12%
They can’t fully recover from schizophrenia 42%
They can fully recover from schizophrenia 13%
They are dangerous 15%
They have the same level of physical health problems as everyone else 49%
They are more likely to have physical health problems than those who don't have schizophrenia 14%
They make up roughly 10% of the population 13%
They make up roughly 1% of the population 27%
They have hallucinations and delusions 56%
They shouldn’t have children 10%
They have a lower life expectancy than those who don't have schizophrenia 13%
They must live in institutions 3%
None of these 4%

NOTE: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2216 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 3rd - 5th October 2011 . The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

1. The survey was carried out by YouGov on behalf of Rethink Mental Illness. The 90% figure was arrived at by analysing how many people agreed with one or more of the following myths:

People with Schizophrenia:
Have a split personality
Need to be monitored at all times
Are most likely to develop schizophrenia in their 30’s
Can’t do a normal job
Can’t fully recover from schizophrenia
Are dangerous
Have the same level of physical health problems as everyone else
Make up roughly 10% of the population
Shouldn’t have children
Must live in institutions

2. National Advisory Mental Health Council (1993) ‘Health care reform for Americans with severe mental illnesses’, American Journal of Psychiatry, vol 150, pp 1447-65. As cited in SCIE (2007) A common purpose: Recovery in future mental health services. London: SCIE

3. Royal College of Psychiatrists (2011) Information leaflets – Schizophrenia. http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mentalhealthinfoforall/problems/schizophrenia/schizophrenia.aspx

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness, the leading national mental health membership charity, works to help everyone affected by severe mental illness recover a better quality of life.

Rethink Mental Illness helps more than 52,000 people each year through its services and support groups and by providing information on mental illness.

Our website www.rethink.org receives more than 500,000 visitors every year.

For more information, please contact Rachel Whitehead, Senior Media Relations Officer for Rethink Mental Illness on 0207 840 3138

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