World Mental Health Day tackles schizophrenia stigma

World Mental Health Day is on 10 October every year and today the focus is on reducing the stigma around schizophrenia.

Living with a mental health condition is hard enough. Living with one that’s misunderstood, that some people are scared of and others (inaccurately) use as a metaphor and a joke (‘my look is so schizophrenic today!’) is even harder. People with schizophrenia are often assumed to have a ‘split personality’, which isn’t true, or to be inherently violent, which also isn’t the case. (People with a mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it.)

So what is schizophrenia? It’s an illness that causes a break with reality, and can involve hallucinations, delusions, and hearing voices. Not everyone has the same symptoms, and recent research from Washington University School of Medicine suggested that it could even be a combination of eight different disorders. No one knows what causes it, but there may be a genetic component and in some cases seems to have been triggered by stressful events or smoking strong cannabis. An episode can last for a few weeks, and is usually treated with therapy and medication.

Schizophrenia’s more common than you might think, affecting around one in a hundred people (26 million people worldwide) and usually starting in the late teens or early twenties. Many people are able to manage their symptoms with the right support, but it’s one of the top causes of disability globally, in large part due to problems accessing treatment. Around 50% of people with the condition struggle to get the support they need, 90% of those in the developing world. Psychologists and psychiatrists are today calling for better access to specialist treatment, and more research to improve the options available.

If you want to learn more, including who to contact for help, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a useful leaflet.

Image via The Mental Health Foundation.

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Diane Shipley

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