We’re all familiar with mental illness stereotypes from popular media: the shut-in, the compulsive hand-washer, the person wandering the street yelling obscenities. And while many of these are fading as stigma around mental health lessens, one condition remains misrepresented and misunderstood: psychosis.
The person who hears voices or sees things others don’t is often depicted as the sinister asylum patient, the serial killer or otherwise dangerous villain. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
“People with psychosis are seen as violent, but actually they’re more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. The largest study on this issue found that schizophrenia was actually a protective factor, and people with it who weren't using substances were less likely than others with mental illness to commit acts of violence,” says Sarah Kopelovich, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine and the Katz Family Professor of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Psychosis.
In reality, people who experience psychosis aren’t the distant strangers we fear: they’re our neighbors, relatives and friends, maybe even ourselves. About three out of every 100 people will develop psychosis at some point in their lives—which makes it a lot more common than most of us would believe.
What psychosis is—and isn’t
While it’s typically thought of as a break with reality, psychosis may be more of a bending—or extension—of it.