Schizophrenia Awareness Week

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1 in 100 people in the UK have schizophrenia. When I say this word, what do you think? An axe-wheedling murderer? Or a young lady, up and coming in graphic design?

The media would have us believe all dangerous criminals are “schizos”, I’m not hiding from the fact that some criminals have schizophrenia but some criminals will have eaten beef in the last 24 hours before committing a crime…do the media ever mention that?! People who have schizophrenia are not automatically dangerous. Often it is said that they are more likely to hurt themselves than others, while this is true the reality is that they’re not going to hurt anyone.

Schizophrenia is comprised of positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations (perceiving (hearing, seeing etc) things that are not there in reality) and delusions (a belief contradicted by reality). Negative symptoms may include flat mood, poverty of speech and movement and general apathy. The positive symptoms can appear quite confusing and even scary while the negative symptoms often linger well after an episode has passed.

It is very sad that people with schizophrenia often find themselves stuck in the mental health system. A survey has shown that due to lack of appropriate support people are unable to get on with functioning lives. With the right medication and the appropriate support symptoms can be managed but what is “appropriate support”?

  • Being encouraged to talk about unusual experiences
  • Not colluding with or condoning beliefs
  • Not being excluded purely on diagnosis
  • Considering reasonable adjustments to enable full functioning (e.g. allowing the use of headphones in a busy office environment)

2 out of 3 people with schizophrenia unfortunately say lack of support has had a negative impact on their opportunities in education. Schizophrenia is likely to lower your self-esteem and confidence so a lot of encouragement is needed. It’s important to make very small step when trying to achieve goals – this support does not need to be provided by professionals; friends and family are important. Unfortunately 9/10 have said lack of appropriate support has had a negative impact on their ability to maintain relationships, which will obviously reduce the amount of support they have, it’s a vicious cycle.

Often, people with enduring mental health problems have to rely on charities to provide the support they need. 1 out of 3 with the diagnosis feel things have got worse in the last 2 years. This could be in part down to:

  • The NHS concentrating on mild/moderate depression and anxiety; while the IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapy) services are excellent the resources have had to come from somewhere.
  • For more sever illnesses, crisis services are in crisis and the Community Mental Health Team can only see those who reach the “critical” threshold as they‘re working at the limits of capacity.
  • Universal systems to help people off benefits and back to work are inappropriate. While I think enabling people to work is excellent, most people need specialist support with an understanding of the unique difficulties they face. Universal systems are set up to fail and could ultimately cause unnecessary mental health crises.

So, what can we do?

  • Join Time to Change (have a look at their pledge gallery – what can you pledge?)
  • Find out what your local mental health service provision is and write to your local CCG encouraging them to commission specialist mental health services in supported living, community care and employment education and training.
  • Join campaigns that ask the government to take the crisis the mental health services are in seriously.
  • Listen out for people talking derogatively about schizophrenia or other mental health conditions, try to challenge them to improve knowledge and awareness.

It’s up to all of us to drive the changes needed to improve the lives of people with mental health conditions.

Resources:

Mental Health Foundation

Mind info on schizophrenia

Rethink Mental Illness info on schizophrenia

Time to Change get involved

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