The word “schizophrenia” means “split mind,” likely contributing to the general misconceptions surrounding the disorder and its symptoms. Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder (MPD), is often confused as schizophrenia by the general public. Many individuals falsely believe that schizophrenia is characterized by multiple personalities due to symptoms of the disorder, such as hallucinations and delusions. However, there is a stark difference between hearing voices as part of a hallucination and embodying an entirely new person with a distinct personality, physical characteristics and background, as is the case with individuals struggling with DID. This misunderstanding surrounding DID and schizophrenia contributes to the stigma and misinformation regarding both serious mental health disorders.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 1.1 percent of the adult population in the United States struggles with some degree of schizophrenia. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that DID is present in 0.01 to 1 percent of the U.S. adult population and is found in women nine times more often than it is in men. The exact causes of both disorders are unknown, though schizophrenia is believed to be largely genetic while DID is thought to be the result of trauma from early childhood. Neither disorder is largely characterized by violent tendencies, despite media portrayal of such. NAMI notes that substance abuse can trigger violence in individuals with schizophrenia, though it is not typically associated with the disorder.
Characters in film and television with multiple personalities are often referred to as “schizos.” The 2009 television series “The United States of Tara” features Toni Collette as Tara Gregson, a wife and mother struggling with DID. Her alternate identities vary from a redneck middle-aged man to a giggly teenage girl. In the series, which was lauded in the press for not glamorizing mental illness, misinformed side characters often witness symptoms of her DID and label her as schizophrenic. This is such a widespread misconception that there is even a t-shirt available for sale online that reads, “I used to be schizophrenic but we’re all right now.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with DID, schizophrenia or any other mental health disorder, help is available. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today and learn more about treatment options in your area.
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer