SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – May 24 is World Schizophrenia Day, and while many people might have an idea of what schizophrenia is, few might know how to combat the stigma associated with the disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, schizophrenia is a disorder that causes people to interpret reality in a way that is abnormal. They might experience hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking, and behavior that impairs their daily functioning.

Schizophrenia is also a spectrum of disorders that feature these symptoms with varying severity, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“Truly, schizophrenia is the most stigmatized disorder, because you hear ‘schizophrenia’ and people often think of the worst behaviors possible,” Alloceia Hall said in an interview Monday.

Hall is a member of the board of directors for the Savannah chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and also works as a licensed counselor. She spoke with WSAV NOW on how to combat the stigma associated with mental illness, specifically schizophrenia.

“One of the struggles that people face is the idea of — no matter what the reality is — of being judged,” Hall said.

This struggle leads many to not seek treatment whenever they are dealing with mental health problems.

“So people fear being judged. They fear not meeting expectations. They fear not being understood and accepted,” she explained.

On top of that, Hall said those with mental health issues like schizophrenia are afraid of others not being able to see beyond their mental illness.

“Their fear is that people will not be able to see past what they’re dealing with to allow them to flourish in the areas where they may have strengths,” she elaborated.

But why are people without stigmatized disorders afraid of those with them?

“People are fearful,” Hall explained, “as if anyone with a mental illness might potentially be threatening or aggressive, and that may not be the case.”

She stressed that those with mental illnesses are usually no more dangerous than those without them. It’s true that, according to a 2011 article published by Oxford University Press, people with schizophrenia are much more likely to become victims of violence than to perpetrate it.

“Because a person may respond to the voices they might hear, it doesn’t make them a danger. It doesn’t make them any more threatening than anyone else,“ Hall said.

Hall said the biggest thing you can do to combat the stigma associated with schizophrenia and other disorders is to educate yourself on mental illnesses.

“Education, education, education,” she repeated.

She said not to rely on the media or film industry to inform you about disorders, especially disorders like schizophrenia. Instead, do your own research and find information from reputable sources.

“Movies and things have portrayed the idea that the person in the shadows with the scary music and the knife is the person with schizophrenia,” Hall said, explaining that this was not helpful when it came to reducing the stigma surrounding the illness.

“It is the same as any other disability that someone might be living with,” she said.

Hall also said to avoid labeling other people by their disorder.

“If we don’t label people as what their disorder is, then we can see the person for themselves. That is why labeling is such a problem,” she said.

Hall wanted people to know that those with a mental illness diagnosis are no different than anyone else with a diagnosis. Recognizing this is vital, she said, to help those in your life who are mentally ill.

“It needs treatment and it needs care and it needs understanding and acceptance so that they can function with the rest of us,” Hall said.

If you would like to learn more about schizophrenia, you can check out the Mayo Clinic website through the link here.

You can also learn about schizophrenia from the National Institute of Mental Health through the link here.