Research shows that the media and movies perpetrate ignorance, fear, and inaccurate stereotypes that contribute to negative attitudes toward schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Most laypeople have little factual knowledge about these conditions, and their opinions are incorrect often. Misinformation has led to a lack of understanding, so many of the 26 million people around the world who’ll experience schizophrenia in their lifetimes won’t receive formal diagnoses and necessary treatments. Experts are trying to turn this intolerance around by replacing harmful myths with vital facts.
Struggles Patients Face
People with mental health problems experience prejudice and discrimination in almost every aspect of their lives. Many have said that the stigma is more disabling than the illness itself. Research shows that people pre-judge those with mental illnesses, which makes pursuing everyday activities even more challenging.
A survey of about 500 people with schizophrenia found that:
88 percent believe the public associates schizophrenia with violence
80 plus percent said their diagnoses made life more difficult
Investigators who interviewed over 700 people with schizophrenia diagnoses in 27 countries discovered that:
72 percent admitted feeling the need to conceal their diagnoses
64 percent said the anticipation of discrimination stopped them applying for work, training, or education programs
55 percent reported that their illnesses prevented them looking for close relationships
Tackling Public Misconceptions
According to World Mental Health Day, the majority of the population believes that schizophrenia is a split- or multiple-personality disorder that manifests like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act. Dr. Sheri Jacobson, clinical director at Harley Therapy, says that each sufferer has just one personality. Schizophrenia affects the way people think. What splits is their perception of the world around them.
Nigel Campbell, associate director of communications at Rethink Mental Illness, identifies the stigma surrounding schizophrenia as one of the biggest problems that people with this illness face. Lots of people are scared of schizophrenics, think they’re dangerous, and don’t know how to interact with them. Some sufferers lose relationships with family and friends after opening up about what they’re experiencing while others struggle to find work. “Many employers assume that if you have a mental health problem, you won’t be able to hold down a job,” he said.
Attitudes Are Evolving Gradually
We have a long way to go before schizophrenia achieves universal understanding, but attitudes toward mental health seem to be improving slowly. A recent survey from Time to Change, a mental health anti-stigma program, found that 79 percent of people acknowledge that those with mental illnesses have been the subjects of ridicule for too long.
Program director Sue Baker notes that patients have started to speak out in recent years. Thousands of people including high-profile sports and business figures are sharing their own experiences to help shift false perceptions. “However, we shouldn’t underestimate the task ahead of securing long-lasting, irreversible, and far-reaching changes in attitudes, behaviors, policies, and systems,” she warned. We’ll reach our goal when people can reveal their diagnoses at job interviews and on first dates without fearing negative reactions and outcomes.
Living with Schizophrenia
Symptoms can include hearing voices, hallucinations, depression, and reduced social interaction. Delusions may start based in truth but become more complex as the illness progresses. Campbell notes that hearing voices or experiencing extreme paranoia can be very frightening at first. Differentiating psychosis effects from reality can be hard.
Shockingly, people with schizophrenia or other severe mental illnesses die 20 years earlier than the general population on average, mostly from preventable illnesses. According to Rethink’s 20+ campaign, this is because these people don’t get regular physical checkups, and doctors often miss physical signs when they do request help.
Seeking Diagnosis and Treatment
If you think that you or a loved one may be experiencing symptoms, visit a primary care physician first. Schizophrenia doesn’t have one specific cure. Doctors prescribe a combination of medication and talk therapy often. Antipsychotics like Geodon (Ziprasidone) help minimize schizophrenia symptoms. Dr. Fiona Morrison, consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Hospital Glasgow, says that well-controlled symptoms can allow people to function fully at home, work, and in their communities.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about schizophrenia is that it isn’t a life sentence. “With the right support, people can recover,” Campbell said. About half of all people who receive schizophrenia diagnoses recover after just one or two episodes. “The key is to get treatment as quickly as possible.”
Support System Challenges
Schizophrenia can be very confusing and difficult for patients’ families and friends who may not understand what’s happening to their loved one and don’t know where to turn for assistance. Jacobson advises also getting help for yourself if you’re supporting someone with this psychiatric disorder. Don’t blame yourself if your loved one has this mental illness. Schizophrenia is no one’s fault.
Jacobson also cautions against being self critical if things become more difficult than you can handle. “Schizophrenia is a challenge for all those involved, and the feelings of fear, frustration, and helplessness it can cause can lead to stress and anxiety that can take over your life if you let it,” she said.
Learn More About Schizophrenia
Watch this Rutgers University video for basic disease information. It also dispels harmful stigmas and gives advice on how to interact with schizophrenia patients.