Mental health conditions are often stigmatised in the public eye, and sadly, schizophrenia is no exception. From the press and fictional media portrayals to respected Louis Theroux documentaries; individuals living with schizophrenia are often shown as dangerous or violent which impacts public awareness and understanding of schizophrenia; reinforcing how ingrained the stigma is in our society, and the challenges we face to reduce it. We all know the word schizophrenia, but let’s go into more depth about what the condition is, and what we can do to support those living with it, as well as how you can access support and training.
What is Schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a long term mental health condition, characterised by ongoing episodes of psychosis. According to a report by the NHS Confederation, 1 in 50 people in Wales are experiencing a severe mental health condition such as schizophrenia or bipolar. This statistic works out to around 60,000 people in Wales, almost enough to fill the Principality Stadium.
Despite this seemingly high figure, schizophrenia is still a condition that’s deeply misunderstood due to the lack of understanding around the range of symptoms that can impact people’s everyday lives. The symptoms of schizophrenia are typically described as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, but this doesn’t mean that they are good or bad. Positive symptoms are when someone feels unusual changes in their thoughts and feelings that add to a person’s experience, whereas negative changes relate to a lack of feelings from a person that they would normally have.
- Disorganised thinking
- Lack of motivation
- Slow movement
- Change in sleep patterns
- Poor grooming or hygiene
- Changes in body language and emotions
- Less interest in social activities
- Low sex drive
Despite the ranging symptoms, everyone’s experience of schizophrenia is different and not everyone will experience these symptoms. However, people’s experiences of stigma associated with schizophrenia can unfortunately be all too similar.
Stigma – What Is It?
For some people living with schizophrenia, stigma and harmful stereotypes can be the hardest part of everyday life,which makes dealing with symptoms even more challenging. Stigma can cause people not to seek support due to not being comfortable to talk with friends and family; this fearful silence has doubled in Wales from 20% in 2019 to 43% in 2021.
Common misconceptions about people with schizophrenia that feed into stigma include:
- They have multiple personalities – schizophrenia is often confused with people having split personalities which isn’t the case. However, another confusion can be due to the word ‘schizophrenia’ coming from two Greek words that mean ‘split’ and ‘mind’
- They are violent and dangerous – around 10% of people with psychotic disorders are violent, but this can also be due to substance abuse, which is similar for those who don’t have a mental health condition. People with schizophrenia are also more likely to be victims of violence, rather than the instigators
- Schizophrenia is always genetic – we are unsure what causes schizophrenia, however, it isn’t always passed on and other factors can play a part such as environmental factors and life experiences
- They struggle to maintain a job – proper management of schizophrenia can give people the potential to maintain employment, and work can be a key element of the recovery process
Battling stigma is difficult, however, what’s important is to give people with schizophrenia a voice so they can share their stories and experiences. ReThink Mental Illness have filmed a video of Trina and Mark, a mother and son who are sharing Mark’s experience and journey of schizophrenia together; you can view the video here. Mark describes his schizophrenia as “like reading 10 books at a time,” and that when his illness got really tough, his reality would be like “a never-ending story”. Showing people like Mark’s real, lived experience is so important to challenge stigma and shows us that empathy, compassion and understanding are an important part of the way forward to support those living with schizophrenia and raise awareness.
National Schizophrenia Awareness Day
ReThink Mental Illness are the charity who lead on the annual National Schizophrenia Awareness Day that took place on July 25th 2023. As you can see in the video of Mark and Trina, a lot of work is being done to support those living with schizophrenia through support groups and activities such as art therapy.
ReThink Mental Illness are committed to shining a light on schizophrenia through the awareness day and had plenty of ways for you to get involved (which you still can!), such as:
- Sharing their ‘What is schizophrenia?’ video
- Retweet their stories and spread the word on social media
- Add facts about schizophrenia to your Instagram stories
- Download their poster for your workplace
It’s important to remember that those with schizophrenia live with the condition as part of their everyday lives. Therefore, even after taking part in awareness days such as National Schizophrenia Awareness Day, there’s still plenty of time to raise awareness all year long. So, please continue to carry out the above suggestions well after the awareness day, it’ll still do good!
Advice and Support
ReThink Mental Illness also have different support and advice services available for people to access, such as:
- Advocacy – the charity are committed to helping empower people by standing up for their rights and fighting for access to services
- Helplines and Online Peer Support – a free online community to help adults with their mental health
- Carers Support – providing supported housing services in communities
Don’t forget to also check with your school or workplace to see what local services are available and if there’s a Mental Health First Aider who can provide you with guidance and support. Or, why not take a look at one of our courses if you’d like to become a Mental Health First Aider? At MHFA Wales, we understand the importance of educating others on the ways to support those living with a mental health condition like schizophrenia. By becoming a Mental Health First Aider, you could become a pillar of support and guidance in your community.
We hope that you’re now able to understand the symptoms, stigma and how to get support for yourself and others a little bit better. To find out more about us, the types of training we provide, or book a course through one of our licensed instructors, visit our website and invest in your wellbeing and the mental health of those around you.