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5 myths about schizophrenia, according to a mental health expert: ‘Huge stigma’

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5 myths about schizophrenia, according to a mental health expert: ‘Huge stigma’

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About 1% of Americans, or nearly 3.5 million people, are affected by schizophrenia — yet the mental disorder remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood, experts say.

The reason, according to Brooke Kempf, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner based in Indiana, is a general lack of knowledge about schizophrenia.

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“People may see somebody hallucinating and think, ‘That is schizophrenia,’ when there’s so much more to the illness,” she told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

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“It’s important for people to recognize that schizophrenia is a diagnosed and treatable medical condition.”

For World Schizophrenia Day, Kempf shared some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding the disorder.

Approximately 1% of Americans, or nearly 3.5 million people, are affected by schizophrenia — yet the mental disorder remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood, experts say. (iStock)

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Here’s a look at five. 

Myth No. 1: People with schizophrenia are violent

One of the greatest and “most harmful” myths is the notion that people living with schizophrenia are “scary” or “violent,” Kempf said.

“There is a long history of conflating TV or movie characters who are behaving in odd, confusing or frightening ways with a diagnosis of schizophrenia,” she said. 

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“However, we have to remember that these are made-up, dramatized situations. A diagnosis of schizophrenia doesn’t have anything to do with what we see on the screen.”

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When patients with schizophrenia experience an acute episode — perhaps having delusions or hearing voices — they might behave differently than they typically would, sometimes seeming angry or violent.

“The person is likely experiencing something within themselves that they might be arguing about or responding to, but they aren’t targeting anything toward another person,” Kempf said.

schizophrenia split

When a patient with schizophrenia is experiencing an acute episode — perhaps having delusions or hearing voices — they might behave differently than they typically would, sometimes seeming angry or violent. (iStock)

When symptoms are managed with medication, “you would probably have no idea of their diagnosis,” she noted.

“Through my long history of working in community mental health and hearing their stories, I know that people living with schizophrenia are good, caring, loving people,” Kempf said. 

“They are more likely,” she added, “to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator of one.”

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Myth No. 2: People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities

There is a misconception that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities, which could be because the Greek word “schizophrenia” means “split mind,” Kempf noted.

“However, people with schizophrenia do not have split personalities,” she said. 

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“They might have different behavioral characteristics when they’re ill and experiencing an episode, but it’s not because they have a split personality.”

Myth No. 3: People with schizophrenia are not intelligent

This assumption is completely false, according to Kempf.

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“If the illness isn’t well managed and continues to progress, or they have repeated relapses, patients will lose gray matter in their brains, and their cognitive function may decline,” she told Fox News Digital.

“But that does not mean they’re not intelligent.”

Man talking to a doctor

One expert said she’s worked with a multitude of “very successful individuals who also happen to live with schizophrenia.” (iStock)

Some patients may experience cognitive decline in the early stages of the disease — referred to as the “prodromal phase,” Kempf said — but early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent that.

Kempf said she has worked with a multitude of “very successful individuals who also happen to live with schizophrenia.”

“People with schizophrenia do not have split personalities.”

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In many cases, she noted, people can no longer see the “highly intelligent individual” behind the disease.

“As long as individuals with schizophrenia get the proper treatment — ideally with a long-acting injectable (LAI) medication — they can keep their symptoms controlled and function very well,” Kempf said. 

Myth No. 4: Symptoms of schizophrenia only involve hallucinations and delusions

Schizophrenia consists of what is clinically termed “positive” and “negative” symptoms, Kempf noted.

“Delusions and hallucinations, as well as changes in behavior and thoughts, are considered positive symptoms,” she said. 

schizophrenia symptoms

“Delusions and hallucinations, as well as changes in behavior and thoughts, are considered positive symptoms” of schizophrenia, the expert said.  (iStock)

Patients experiencing these symptoms may hear voices or have extra thoughts, delusions or fixed false beliefs, the expert explained. 

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“Hallucinations are not just hearing voices,” Kempf said. “They can occur in multiple ways based on our senses — seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things.”

Negative symptoms are when people lose interest in the world around them, withdraw or don’t take an interest in everyday social interactions, according to Kempf. 

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“Patients with schizophrenia may get labeled as ‘lazy,’ or they don’t seem as put together,” she said. “But it’s not about laziness. The person’s brain doesn’t connect these things as being important.”

People with schizophrenia may also experience what are referred to as “psychomotor” symptoms, Kempf said — they might seem abnormally slow, and their speech and thought processes can be somewhat delayed or disorganized.

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“Unfortunately, if these negative symptoms continue and there isn’t treatment, they can impact cognitive functioning.”

Myth No. 5: People with schizophrenia require long-term or lifelong hospitalization

Hospitalization for a person experiencing acute schizophrenia symptoms is usually very short, according to Kempf. 

“For someone having an episode of schizophrenia, the average length of stay may be about five days.”

“In an inpatient setting, for someone having an episode of schizophrenia, the average length of stay may be about five days,” she said.

“If a patient doesn’t respond to medication and can’t function safely on their own, they might have to go to a longer-term, higher-level setting.”

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Today, health care providers aim to give people with schizophrenia community-based services so that they’re able to function on their own, Kempf noted.

This might mean supporting them with employment services and housing opportunities to ensure that they have an affordable and safe place to live. 

“Some patients continue to live with their family members; some might live in a group home,” Kempf said.

“People living with this disease deserve to be treated like human beings and with the same care we would provide someone diagnosed with a physical illness.”

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From a medical perspective, schizophrenia has different levels of severity, the expert noted. 

“But, again, if managed well, with early intervention, an individual can remain high-functioning and live independently,” she said. 

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“Our goal is the least structured environment possible, enabling the person to live a normal life where they can work, grocery shop and drive on a day-to-day basis.” 

Ultimately, Kempf said, schizophrenia should be viewed as a disease, not a choice. 

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Female doctor with male patient

“While schizophrenia is a mental health diagnosis, it should be thought of no differently than a physical health diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease,” an expert said. (iStock)

“While schizophrenia is a mental health diagnosis, it should be thought of no differently than a physical health diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease,” she said.

“It just impacts a different organ: the brain.”

Other brain disorders, such as epilepsy, tend to be more accepted by society, she said — but there is still a “huge stigma” surrounding diseases like schizophrenia, “probably because of the fear of the unknown.”

“It is treatable, and both medication and support services are available,” she told Fox News Digital. 

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“We all have a role to play in helping to dispel myths, foster understanding and reduce stigma,” she continued. 

“People living with this disease deserve to be treated like human beings and with the same care we would provide someone diagnosed with a physical illness.”

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Experimental Alzheimer’s drug gets FDA advisory panel's thumbs-up: ‘Progress is happening’

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Experimental Alzheimer’s drug gets FDA advisory panel's thumbs-up: ‘Progress is happening’

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug, donanemab, was endorsed by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel on Monday.

Donanemab is designed to treat symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease, including mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s dementia.

At the FDA’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Advisory Committee hearing, which was held in Maryland on Monday, the advisers unanimously agreed that the drug’s benefits outweigh any potential risks.

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While this isn’t a guarantee the FDA will approve the drug, the agency does typically follow the panel’s recommendations, per reports.

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“The FDA held the advisory committee meeting to hear the viewpoints and assessments of the experts on both the benefits and the risks of donanemab,” the agency told Fox News Digital in an emailed statement. 

“As with all applications the FDA receives, we will thoroughly review and consider the input from the committee.”

An experimental Alzheimer’s drug, donanemab, was endorsed by a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Monday. (iStock)

Officials at Eli Lilly, the Indiana pharmaceutical company that makes donanemab, were also in attendance, fielding questions from the committee about potential side effects.

At the Monday hearing, Eli Lilly officials presented clinical trial results that showed the drug slowed cognitive and functional decline for people with mild cognitive impairment due to early stages of Alzheimer’s.

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The study was also published by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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In phase 3 trials published in May 2023, donanemab was shown to “significantly slow cognitive and functional decline in people with early symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease,” according to a press release on Eli Lilly’s website.

If donanemab is approved, it would become only the second available medication designed to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

Man taking medicine

Donanemab is designed to treat symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease, including mild cognitive impairment and mild Alzheimer’s dementia. (iStock)

Leqembi, the first new Alzheimer’s treatment in 20 years, was given full FDA approval in July 2023.

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Donanemab works by clearing built-up amyloid from the brain. It was shown to cause side effects such as “brain swelling and tiny bleeds,” researchers found.

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The Alzheimer’s Association, based in Chicago, released a statement welcoming the FDA’s finding that donanemab is effective for the treatment of early Alzheimer’s disease.

“A future with more approved Alzheimer’s treatments is a tremendous advancement for people eligible for these drugs,” said Joanne Pike, DrPH, Alzheimer’s Association president and CEO, in a statement provided to Fox News Digital. 

Eli Lilly

Eli Lilly officials presented clinical trial results showing that the drug, donanemab, slowed cognitive and functional decline for people with mild cognitive impairment due to early stages of Alzheimer’s. (iStock)

“Progress with treatment is happening. Now we need more types of treatments, targeting a variety of aspects of the disease, with greater efficacy and safety,” she continued.

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“A rich and robust life without the threat of memory loss, confusion or cognitive decline — this is what we envision.”

The next step toward approval of donanemab is FDA review.

Dr. Marc Siegel

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center, noted that donanemab is very similar to Leqembi, the current drug on the market that blocks amyloid formation.  (Dr. Marc Siegel)

Dr. Marc Siegel, clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center and a Fox News medical contributor, who was not involved in the drug trials, noted that donanemab is very similar to Leqembi, the current drug on the market that blocks amyloid formation. 

“A rich and robust life without the threat of memory loss, confusion or cognitive decline — this is what we envision.”

— Joanne Pike, CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association

“The problem with … denonemab is similar — it can cause brain swelling and bleeding,” Siegel told Fox News Digital.

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“It is also expensive, as it’s once a month versus once every two weeks for Leqembi.” 

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Denonemab is “somewhat more effective,” Siegel noted, as it slows progression of Alzheimer’s by about 35% versus 27% for Leqembi.

“It may be better at removing plaques,” he said.

man with alzheimers supported by wife

“A future with more approved Alzheimer’s treatments is a tremendous advancement for people eligible for these drugs,” the Alzheimer’s Association president and CEO said in a statement. (iStock)

There may be limitations associated with these types of drugs, however, according to the doctor.

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“Many experts have told me that the obsession with amyloid formation may not be the holy grail it was once thought to be,” Siegel told Fox News Digital. 

“The study didn’t pay enough attention to tau proteins, which are also a key player here.” 

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Tau proteins, which cause “tangles” in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients, are not the primary targets of these drugs, Siegel said. 

                             

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“There is also the issue of neuroinflammation and neuronal transmission abnormalities, which precede the buildup of the plaque proteins and are important targets for research.”              

In response, Eli Lilly provided the below statement.

“Lilly is pursuing multiple approaches to treat Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Our pipeline of molecules in human testing includes ones aimed at amyloid (donanemab, remternetug), tau (OGA inhibitor), as well as lewy body dementia and frontotemporal dementia.”

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Does sunscreen cause skin cancer? Doctors debunk claims gone wild on social media

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Does sunscreen cause skin cancer? Doctors debunk claims gone wild on social media

Some claims on social media about sun safety have grown into a major misconception that sunscreen could cause skin cancer.

Hundreds of creators, many on TikTok, have posted videos arguing that the sun isn’t the culprit in causing cancer, but rather that harmful chemicals found in sunscreens are to blame.

This stems from a 2021 recall of Neutrogena spray sunscreens and one Aveeno product (Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen) due to the presence of benzene, a known carcinogen.

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Johnson & Johnson officials confirmed that benzene is not a sunscreen ingredient, according to a Harvard Medical School advisory in Oct. 2021.

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Additional testing reportedly found such low levels of benzene in these products that it would not be expected to cause health problems.

Johnson & Johnson’s Neutrogena Beach Defense bottles are seen on display on a table. The Neutrogena Beach Defense is one of the sunscreens that was recalled due to containing benzene. (Aimee Dilger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Experts advised choosing a different sunscreen brand as a solution.

But a national survey by the Orlando Health Cancer Institute in Florida found that one in seven adults under 35 years old believe sunscreen is more harmful to the skin than direct sun exposure.

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Another 23% believe that drinking water and staying hydrated can prevent sunburns.

“This phenomenon taps into the public’s growing distrust of companies due to the proliferation of harmful chemicals in consumer products.”

Many Americans (32%) also believe that a tan makes people look better and healthier, the survey found.

Rajesh Nair, M.D., an oncology surgeon at the Orlando Health Cancer Institute, commented in a press release that there is “no such thing as a healthy tan.”

woman using sunscreen on a beach

Thirty-two percent of Americans believe that a tan makes people look better and healthier, according to the Orlando Health Cancer Institute study. (iStock)

“It’s really just a visual manifestation of damage to the skin,” he said. “But we’re fighting against a perceived positive image and health benefits of something that actually has a totally opposite reality, which is that suntanned skin represents an increased risk of a deadly disease.”

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“Age, gender and phenotype play a role, too.” 

Krista Rubin, a nurse practitioner and member of Mass General Cancer Center’s Melanoma Team, told Fox News Digital that there is “little evidence supporting the claim that sunscreens are carcinogenic.” 

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“There is clear-cut evidence of the link between UV radiation exposure and skin cancer,” she wrote in an email. “However, the risk of developing skin cancer isn’t limited to UV radiation exposure – age, gender and phenotype play a role, too.” 

Males are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, Rubin said, as are people with blonde or red hair, light skin or light eyes. 

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man applies sunscreen on his shoulder at the beach

Sunburns are caused by damage from the sun’s UV rays, according to experts. (iStock)

Other risk factors include having a suppressed immune system, being a solid organ transplant recipient or taking certain medications.

Rubin reiterated that sunburns are caused by the sun’s UV rays damaging the skin. So, while drinking water in hot weather will help prevent dehydration and keep the body cool, it will not prevent sunburn.

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“A tan is visible evidence of skin injury,” the expert said. “Whether from the sun or from a tanning bed, tanning exposes the skin to high levels of UVA radiation, which we know is not healthy and is linked to both skin cancer and accelerated aging.”

Social media expert Eric Dahan, founder of Mighty Joy, said she believes social media has become “rife with misinformation about sunscreen.”

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Peeling skin on the shoulder after sunburn

“A tan is visible evidence of skin injury,” one expert said. (iStock)

“It’s often spread by well-meaning but overall uninformed, self-appointed health and wellness experts and select dermatologists,” said Dahan, who is based in California. 

“A lot of the misinformation is due to actual science being less engaging and more nuanced than bold (false) statements.” 

The spread of false information regarding sunscreen reflects a “general public sentiment” about what the products contain, Dahan said. 

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“This phenomenon taps into the public’s growing distrust of companies due to the proliferation of harmful chemicals in consumer products,” he said. 

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“Over the years, we have discovered that materials that were deemed as ‘safe’ are highly harmful – from lead, BPA, PFaS and now plastics.”

woman and man spraying sunscreen in a kayak

A rise in cancer rates among young people could be driving a “distrust of companies,” one expert noted. (iStock)

There has also been a rise in cancer rates among young people, Dahan mentioned, which further drives a “healthy distrust of companies and government regulators.”

“When it comes to sunscreen, it seems a lot of the misinformation was driven by an old chemical used decades ago that has since been prohibited, after a contamination event led to a recall,” he said.

Among consumers of social media, Dahan suggested that it is “very difficult to determine what is true if you’re not an expert.” 

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“There are conflicting studies, conflicting opinions from seemingly credible individuals, flat-out false information, and an overall lack of confidence in the private companies making these products and in government regulators,” he said.

Some experts — including Dr. Nicky Gazy, a board-certified dermatologist in Florida — have responded on social media with the recommendation to use sunscreen alternatives that do not contain benzene.

a little girl has sunscreen applied to her face

One dermatologist recommended using zinc-based mineral sunscreen. (iStock)

“When it comes to skin cancer and skin health, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen,” Gazy said in a TikTok video posted in July 2023.

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To decrease cumulative exposure to “chemical sunscreens,” Gazy recommended wearing a zinc-based mineral sunscreen. 

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“It’s actually what I recommend to my patients, especially my pregnant patients,” he said.

Fox News Digital reached out to Johnson & Johnson for comment.

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