National Schizophrenia Awareness Day – lessons we can all learn from those affected by schizophrenia

For National Schizophrenia Awareness Day, Bristol Wellbeing College learner and blogger Chrissy writes about mental health stigma and what we can learn from people living with schizophrenia.

One in two people living with schizophrenia around the world are not currently receiving treatment, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This has little to do with treatment options not being available, and more to do with the stigma, and the general societal misunderstanding of schizophrenia.

On 25 July, National Schizophrenia Awareness Day highlights the challenges faced by millions of people worldwide living with schizophrenia. Charity Rethink Mental Illness’s website gives an overview of what schizophrenia is and how it presents, as well as outlining steps we can all take to reduce the stigma and discrimination surrounding this widely misunderstood disorder.

What don’t I know?

People with mental health issues are among the most stigmatised in our communities.

Ok, you probably did know that, but it’s likely you don’t realise the extent to which schizophrenia is stigmatised or misunderstood.

In fact, most of what you think you know about schizophrenia is likely either not true, or is predominantly made up of distortions and exaggerations.

Here are some of the biggest things you probably don’t know about schizophrenia.

1. The chance of developing schizophrenia in one’s lifetime is about one in 100.

There are many forms this can take, be it one episode or lots of episodes, mild symptoms or very severe symptoms.

2. Schizophrenia can be experienced differently by different people.

As I literally just said, symptoms of schizophrenia vary widely from mild to severe, as is true for most menta health problems

Some of the symptoms of schizophrenia are more common than others, though, and include:

  • Irrational beliefs and/or delusions
  • Hallucinations – perceiving things no one else can see/hear/feel
  • Thoughts are not connected logically
  • Fast-paced/difficult to understand speech
  • Movement abnormality (including catatonia)
  • Withdrawal from social activities, reduced facial expressions, and low motivation.

3. Schizophrenia is a type of psychosis, but is not psychosis itself

Schizophrenia and psychosis are frequently viewed as interchangeable terms, but psychosis is actually an umbrella term that encompasses several conditions – including schizophrenia.

4. Schizophrenia does not cause violence

Films and pop culture often depict people with schizophrenia as violent. But schizophrenia is not characterised by violence. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to harm themselves than others.

5. Schizophrenia is treatable

People living with schizophrenia can lead rewarding, happy lives with the right combination of treatment options.

A combination of education, medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, and mindfulness-based interventions can be used to help patients to achieve any goals they wish to fulfil.

So, clearly, there is no limit as to what a person living with schizophrenia can achieve.

“That’s all well and good”, you might be saying, “but I don’t have schizophrenia, or know anybody who does – why am I still reading this?”

Well, firstly, because it’s very well written and you’re a huge fan of my work (omg no you’re the greatest).

But secondly, there are lessons to be learned here for everyone, not just people with schizophrenia, bipolar or any other personality or schizoaffective (dis)order.

What can we learn from people with schizophrenia?

The term disability does not imply inability

People living with schizophrenia are often portrayed in the media as incapable of leading normal lives, but a number of famous schizophrenics prove otherwise.

John Nash

Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash said that his (dis)order helped spark his mathematical discoveries.

Those same discoveries led to Nash being portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie A Beautiful Mind, which was even better than the Nobel Prize thing, probably.

Vincent van Gogh

It is widely believed that Vincent van Gogh suffered from schizophrenia, and his last two years were marked by psychotic episodes.

In spite of all his personal hardships, he produced 2,100 works of art, including some of the world’s most famous paintings.

Bettie Page

A leading figure among 1950s pinups, Bettie Page is considered a pioneer. Despite her headstrong image, Bettie struggled with her mental health and spent a decade in a psychiatric facility.

Sir Isaac Newton

It is clear from his letters that Sir Isaac Newton suffered from schizophrenia – his moods changed abruptly, he experienced delusions, and he had psychotic episodes.

However, he also discovered gravity, invented calculus and built telescopes, which is why we remember him as a mathematician, physicist, astronomer, alchemist, theologian, and author, rather than a schizophrenic.

Your life is not a competition with those around you

Our lives are filled with comparisons between ourselves and others, and this carries through to our mental health.

Many people who begin treatment for mental health problems feel that their issues aren’t as severe as those of others, and that they might not be deserving of the help they are getting.

In reality, you never know what other people are going through – just what you are going through. Believe yourself when you feel that you need support.

Self-care is essential

A lot of people misunderstand what self-care really means.

Self-care means putting your needs first in carrying out your daily tasks. But before you crack open the bubbly and catapult directly into a bath, that’s needs.

Self-care does not mean ‘do whatever you want all the time’ (and trust me when I say I’ve been looking for a loophole – there isn’t one).

‘Care’ is the operative word here.

If someone is depressed, for example, taking a shower can feel overwhelming, but it will leave them feeling much better.

Making allowances with other tasks so the shower definitely happens, is self-care. It’s not self-care to skip the shower because you don’t want to move.

See the difference?

It’s important to pay attention to what you are calling self-care, and always be aware of the benefits.

As an example, as someone with bipolar disorder and chronic pain, my definition of self-care is:

  • Physical – a walk if I am mobile, and yoga if I’m not. Lots of sleep. A wash every day (shower if I’m energetic, bath if I’m not). Green veggies every day, even if in smoothie form.
  • Practical — making my bed once a week, doing one important house/life admin task every day and no more.
  • Emotional — therapy, art, saying ‘no’ as often as I goddamn please.
  • Spiritual — time alone, yoga, candles, pictures of Ryan Phillippe circa 1999.
  • Social — phone calls/spending time with loved ones, hobbies, boundaries.

Advocacy matters

In the past, you may have had difficulty getting what you wanted from the NHS or social services, so understand the struggle of trying to get care when you need it.

For people with schizophrenia, though, this can mean the difference between life and death.

Thus, it is often crucial for those with the condition to advocate for themselves when dealing with mental health professionals.

Those who are unable to do so can take advantage of advocacy services available in the UK to express their concerns, get information, and explore their options.

This is applicable to more than just mental health.

While it isn’t always that simple, you have a right to be heard about the care you receive and the choices you make for yourself.

Put your mental health first with Bristol Wellbeing College

At Bristol Wellbeing College, our courses are all designed to help you to help yourself, in a supported environment to help you to get as much as you can from the workshops you sign up for.

Our wellbeing workshops are free for adults in Bristol. There are no waiting lists, and you don’t need a referral from your GP.

Check out what we’ve got coming up this month and sign up  our Bristol Wellbeing College webpage.

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