I often want to talk to people of color about racism, and to talk to disabled people about accessibility issues and discrimination. I also find that I have questions for those people who identify as LGBT. I frequently don’t know how to start these conversations though, and I am afraid that I will say the wrong thing. I assume that there are people who would like to ask questions of those of us with schizophrenia too, but may not know the “right” things to say, or may be afraid of asking something that is insulting.
Anyone that is genuinely interested in learning about schizophrenia probably isn’t going to say anything that is insulting, but here is a list of the top five questions to avoid asking someone who has schizophrenia. (Doctors, family or caretakers may have to ask some of these questions, but this isn’t written for them).
- Are you dangerous?
The common belief that people with schizophrenia are dangerous is both a myth and a stereotype. Statistics show that people with schizophrenia are much more likely to be the victim of a crime than to actually commit a crime.
- Did your voices tell you that?
Not all people who have schizophrenia hear voices, and even among those of us who do, not all of us hear them all the time. Any reference to hearing voices should be handled very gently, for example, if you are curious about voices, you might just ask, “What is it like to hear voices?” That question is much more sensitive than the former one.
- Is that real?
Questioning the reality of someone who has schizophrenia is insensitive and rude. If the person is suffering from symptoms of psychosis they probably won’t have the insight to even understand your question, and if they are not suffering from symptoms of psychosis it is likely they are as aware as you are of what is real and unreal. They don’t need a reminder that there are times when their reality is altered.
- Did s/he really say that or are you being paranoid?
Not all people with schizophrenia have paranoid thoughts, and even those of us who do are frequently aware of when a thought is paranoid as opposed to real. Doubting the reality of someone with schizophrenia is neither helpful nor kind.
- Did you take your medication today?
Unless you are the caretaker, therapist, or doctor of someone with schizophrenia this is a question you should avoid. Asking this question makes a person feel as if they are acting in a way that is not “normal.” You wouldn’t ask someone with another illness if they took their medication, and schizophrenia should be treated like any other illness.
Most people are grateful to those people who show a true interest in understanding their illness and those people who want to be educated about it. I know I am thankful to those who care enough to ask about my experiences. If you try to be sensitive and avoid the types of questions I listed, you will most likely get a positive response and learn what it is you want to know about having schizophrenia. You will probably be surprised to discover that we have so much more in common with you than we have differences.
Question photo by Marco Bellucci available under a Creative Commons attribution license