Schizophrenia and Multiple Personality Disorder: What's the Difference?

You're probably familiar with some of the more common mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and bipolar disorder. However schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder may be two of the least understood mental health problems.

Multiple Personality Disorder

What we generally call multiple personality disorder, mental health professionals call Dissociative Identity Disorder. Dissociation is a coping mechanism that lets us disconnect from stressful or traumatic situations, or separate traumatic memories from normal awareness. What differentiates multiple personality disorder from normal--and temporary--dissociation during times of extreme stress is that people with this disorder can take on two or more separate identities or personality states. These identities are called "alters". The person may or may not be aware of the other personalities.

Extreme and repeated trauma, such as sever emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or natural disasters, war, and early, significant loss may trigger Dissociative Identity Disorder. It tends to run in families. A person with this illness may have great difficulty functioning, and can experience depression, mood swings, amnesia, and hallucinations, among many other symptoms. Treatment includes clinical hypnosis and various types of therapy, such as psychotherapy, creative therapy, or family therapy. Patients may take medications to relieve depression or anxiety.


Although multiple personalities are often associated with schizophrenia by the lay person, the two coniditions are exceedingly different. A person with schizophrenia may suffer from delusions (for example, false beliefs of persecution), hallucinations (usually hearing voices), and thought disorders; they jump from one thought to another and have muddled speech.

Eighty percent of our risk for developing schizophrenia is due to our genetic makeup--although actual genetic mutations vary among individuals. If you have one parent with schizophrenia, you have a 10 percent risk of developing the disease. Schizophrenia is likely due to faulty neuron development or chemical imbalance of dopamine (a neurotransmitter). Children born to older fathers may be at higher risk for schizophrenia, although scientists don't know why, and offspring of women who are depressed during pregnancy and who have a family history may also be at somewhat higher risk.

Fortunately, schizophrenia is not common. It affects about one percent of adults worldwide and about 2.2 million in the U.S.

Treatment for schizophrenia is usually a combination of antipsychotic medication, psychotherapy, and self-help resources. While antipsychotic medications are effective, getting patients to take them as prescribed is often a challenge.


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