Microaggressions People with Schizophrenia Face on a Regular Basis

People unfamiliar with schizophrenia often make a number of misguided assumptions about this mental illness. These misconceptions can lead to hurtful microaggressions that people with schizophrenia encounter all too often.

Lisa Guardiola has been living with schizophrenia for 17 years. In a recent blog post for WebMD, she described how in her interactions, she “found that most people aren’t only surprised that I am living with schizophrenia, but that they don’t know what to say to me. As well-intended as they may be, some have asked questions or made statements to me that have been more harmful than good.”

The awkwardness of such encounters is typically based on a pervasive lack of knowledge about schizophrenia. In 2012, psychologist Patricia Owen looked at portrayals of schizophrenia in entertainment media and found that “one of the more prevalent stereotypes found in movies is the depiction of a character with a serious mental illness as dangerous and violent.” She wrote that “media analysts have criticized movies for associating schizophrenia with unpredictable and often violent behaviors.”  

In his book, The Environment of Schizophrenia, Colorado Recovery founder Richard Warner listed a number of widespread stigmatizing misconceptions about schizophrenia including

  • Nobody recovers from schizophrenia
  • Schizophrenia is untreatable
  • People with schizophrenia are usually violent or dangerous
  • Everything people with schizophrenia say is nonsense
  • People with schizophrenia are unable to make decisions about their lives
  • People with schizophrenia are unpredictable
  • People with schizophrenia are unable to work

The items on this list are very familiar to Guardiola. Among the microaggressions, she has encountered is the question “Do the voices you hear tell you to hurt people?” Such a query is very stigmatizing and offensive. “Unfortunately, there’s a misconception that people who live with schizophrenia are violent and that the voices they hear are all negative and homicidal,” she wrote. “In fact, not all people who have auditory hallucinations will hear the same thing. For some, their voices may tell jokes or make sounds that aren’t violent and can be quite comforting to the person experiencing the auditory hallucination. So to assume that every person who lives with schizophrenia hears negative voices is so wrong.”

Another stigmatizing but unfortunately common question to be avoided is “How many personalities do you have?” This very problematic “because many don’t understand that schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as split personality) are two different disorders,” explained Guardiola in her article.  While someone with schizophrenia may have a hard time distinguishing what is real and what is not, people with dissociative identity disorder have multiple, distinct personalities. 

Instead of asking pseudo-psychiatric questions or telling people “it’s all in your head!” it’s much more appropriate to treat people with a mental illness with courtesy and respect—just like other people. They are usually neither homicidal maniacs nor people with “special abilities.”  

As Guardiola wrote, many “people often have this romanticized perception that all those living with schizophrenia are creative. While some who live with this disorder are creative, this perception really feeds into the stereotype and detracts from their natural artistic qualities. For those living with schizophrenia who aren’t creative, it can make them feel as though they are lacking in their abilities. Creativity is not dependent on the fact that a person lives with this disorder.”

It also doesn’t make you someone who is “really awesome in bed,” another awful stereotype. “There’s the assumption that people, especially women, who live with schizophrenia are wild in a sexual way. People who have this diagnosis can and do have healthy and satisfying relationships, but that doesn’t mean that they are wild or overtly sexual just because they live with schizophrenia,” wrote Guardiola.  


The Warner treatment model at Colorado Recovery is based on the idea that people with schizophrenia can and do live very purposeful and fulfilling lives. Our treatment professionals empower their patients by giving them roads to be productive, to help them perceive a positive meaning in life and a sense of belonging that can significantly improve treatment outcomes. We offer a variety of vocational services to help clients with their short-term and long-term career goals, including job-seeking skills, career exploration, and resume creation.

The recovery model counteracts feelings of disempowerment and worthlessness, partially driven by stigmatizing prejudice prevalent in our society. “A central tenet of the recovery model is that empowerment of the user is important in achieving a good outcome in serious mental illness,” wrote Dr. Warner in 2010. “To understand why this may be so, it is important to appreciate that people with mental illness may feel disempowered, not only as a result of involuntary confinement or paternalistic treatment but also by their own acceptance of the stereotype of a person with mental illness. People who accept that they have mental illness may feel driven to conform to an image of incapacity and worthlessness, becoming more socially withdrawn and adopting a disabled role. As a result, their symptoms may persist and they may become dependent on treatment providers and others.” 

At Colorado Recovery it is our mission to help adults with serious mental health issues stabilize their illness, minimize symptoms, improve functioning and enhance each person’s social inclusion, quality of life, and sense of meaning in life.

If you have questions about our recovery model or our services to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and similar mental illnesses, call us at 720-218-4068 to discuss treatment options for you or the person you would like to help.